Reinhard Ploss

Chipping in quietly

Reinhard Ploss, Vorstandsvorsitzender von Infineon, zeigt am 26.11.2015 in der Zentrale des Halbleiterherstellers Infineon in Neubiberg bei München (Bayern) mit einem Finger auf das Logo von Infineon. Das Unternehmen gibt an diesem Tag seine Jahreszahlen bekannt. Foto: Matthias Balk/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Pull my finger! Source: DPA

Success also has its drawbacks, as Reinhard Ploss, 61, is experiencing first-hand. The chief executive of Infineon, a computer chipmaker, used to enjoy a magnificent view of the Alps from his desk. But a new office wing, a few months old, is blocking the towering peaks from his sight. The chip manufacturer needs space after adding 800 new jobs at its Munich headquarters.

Mr. Ploss is not the kind of person to get worked up about it, nor does he like to draw attention to himself. “Putting on a big show is not his thing,” said a colleague of many years. He is modest and reserved, and yet tough as nails, and he enjoys the support of his own team. A native of the Franconia region of Bavaria, Mr. Ploss has transformed the former bankruptcy candidate into a profitable, fast-growing company.

Though Infineon has long been a speculative takeover target, this recovery has made it even more attractive since a buyer doesn’t have to dirty its hands with a restructuring. Broadcom’s $100 billion run at Qualcomm has some wondering if Infineon’s time has come, leading to a 2.2 percent bump in its share price when Qualcomm announced its intentions. The increase probably would have been more pronounced hadn’t the shares already gained about 40 percent this year under Mr. Ploss’s tutelage. By comparison, the benchmark DAX is up only 11 percent. “I have little fear,” he said matter-of-factly when asked if he was afraid of a takeover.

“We want to be an active consolidator.”

Reinhard Ploss, Infineon CEO

Mr. Ploss has worked for Infineon since 1986, but he remains full of energy. “We still have plenty on our agenda beyond the current year,” he said on Tuesday, when he presented Infineon’s annual figures, which led to a 2.75 stock increase. His words were emphatic but not presumptuous. He promised an 8-percent average annual increase in sales and a long-term increase in operating profit to 17 percent. And that’s not all. “We want to be an active consolidator,” he said, which means he plans to make acquisitions, rather than be acquired.

Many analysts and investors were stunned when Supervisory Board Chairman Wolfgang Mayrhuber introduced Mr. Ploss as the new CEO in 2012. But Mr. Mayrhuber knew that a down-to-earth approach couldn’t hurt in the hectic chip industry. “In our dynamic and cyclical business, stability is a key success factor,” he said at the time. Mr. Ploss’ contract now runs through 2020.

Mr. Ploss began his Infineon career as a process engineer and, in 2000, took over as head of the car division. He joined the executive board in 2007. Together with then-CEO Peter Bauer, he saved Infineon from bankruptcy. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Ploss spun off divisions and concentrated on a few growth areas, laying the foundation for today’s success.

While other CEOs collect horses and racing cars, Mr. Ploss flies model airplanes and helicopters. His precise handling of the remote control is a reflection of how he operates in the company. “We keep our promises,” he declared on Tuesday, sending a message to both employees and investors. The message is important since it’s his employees who will have to generate the strong increase in sales in the new fiscal year and demonstrate to investors that things will keep improving. And it’s his job to keep them motivated.

Joachim Hofer covers the high-tech industry for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: hofer@handelsblatt.com

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