As New Owner Arrives, Restructuring Looms at Karstadt

Karstadt seems to keep everyone waiting these days.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Karstadt’s new owner, Austrian investor René Benko, needs a manager who can return the department store chain to profitability.

  • Facts


    • Karstadt has had five CEOs and multiple board members in the last decade.
    • Executive recruiters say managers are wary of working for Karstadt, given its troubles.
    • A succession of high-profile managers, most recently a former IKEA executive, failed to make headway.
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René Benko finally has the final say at Karstadt.

The German Federal Cartel Office approved the takeover of 88 of the upscale retail stores and locations by the Austrian real estate investor’s Signa Holding, which last year acquired a 75 percent stake in the struggling retailer.

The acquisition includes 83 department stores and five K-Town stores.

Karstadt had been owned by German-American billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, who acquired the company in 2010. Initially hailed as a savior, Mr. Berggruen has been criticized for cutting jobs, not investing enough and losing ground to rival Kaufhof.

It took less than a week for the cartel office to approve the sale to Mr. Benko.

“It comes down to one investor replacing another,” said Andreas Mundt, president of the cartel office. He said the transaction doesn’t affect the market position of individual Karstadt stores.

Now, Mr. Benko can do what he wants with Karstadt and can no longer use the pending decision of the cartel board as a pretense for inaction. He must quickly find trusted people to place on the supervisory board, the panel that appoints the chief executive and makes strategic decisions, and schedule a meeting.

That effort already has been postponed twice.

Most importantly, Mr. Benko needs a new leader at a company where turmoil in the executive offices has been the norm, not the exception.

Five top executives have come and gone over the past 10 years while a half-dozen board members have been replaced since 2011.

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