Siemens shareholders today appointed the great-great granddaughter of the company’s founder, Werner von Siemens, to take on what could be a role in transforming the perennially underperforming electronics group.
Nathalie von Siemens, a 43-year-old, is expected to be named by shareholders today to Siemens’ non-executive supervisory board, which hires and fires the chief executive and approves major restructurings. The company was founded in 1847 by Mr. von Siemens, an inventor who patented the process for gold-plating.
His numerous heirs still own a combined 6 percent of the company.
Ms. von Siemens will replace another Siemens heir on the supervisory panel, Gerd von Brandenstein, whose mother’s last name was von Siemens. Mr. von Brandenstein had joined the board in 2008 and is also responsible for Siemens’ asset management. Mr. von Brandenstein is a descendant of the brother of the company’s founder.
Siemens’ energy operations have struggled to keep up with rivals such as General Electric, the largest industrial company in the United States.
Ms. von Siemens is expected to continue her role as managing director of the Siemens Foundation while on the board. She previously worked in corporate strategy and corporate executive development before heading the foundation in January 2013.
Ms. von Siemens studied in Munich, Berlin and Paris and earned a doctorate in philosophy in 2004. She will represent the interest of the numerous Siemens family investors in the company, which is struggling to reinvent itself amid flagging profitability.
Her appointment to the company’s supervisory board puts her on the fast track at the firm, one insider said.
“It would be exciting if this young woman would be going for Gerhard Cromme’s position, the current chairman of the Supervisory Board,” a Siemens investor, who declined to be named, said.
“We have as a family a close emotional connection to the company,” Ms. von Siemens told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper. “We try to keep the tradition of the founding fathers alive.”
Siemens has struggled to match the profitability of archrival General Electric. On Tuesday at its annual shareholder meeting, the company announced a series of management changes amid flagging performance, sending down its stock by more than 3 percent.
The head of Siemens’ power and gas division, Roland Fischer, will leave the company later this week “at his own request,” according to a statement on Siemens’ website. Lisa Davis, a management board member responsible for U.S. business and energy operations, will temporarily lead the unit until a successor is appointed.
Siemens’ energy operations have struggled to keep up with General Electric’s. Siemens hired Ms. Davis, a former Shell manager, to improve results after its $6.4 billion takeover of U.S. fracking equipment maker Dresser-Rand last September.
Siemens also appointed a new head of its healthcare operations, which the company plans to split off and run as a separately managed business. Bernd Montag, currently the head of imaging and therapy systems at the healthcare division, will take over the operation on February 1. Two other healthcare managers were promoted to join the division’s board, Siemens said.
The current healthcare chief, Hermann Requardt, is stepping down to “enable a generational change at the launch of the new healthcare company,” Siemens said.
Siemens promoted Janina Kugel, vice president of human resources and its diversity officer, to the management board to become head of human resources as of February 1. Ms. Kugel will be the second woman on the board after Ms. Davis joined Siemens last year.
With Ms. von Siemens, the founder’s heir, joining the supervisory board, other changes may come.
Up until now, Ms. Siemens has been the managing director at Siemens Foundation, a non-profit that supports initiatives in education and culture. She is known for strong family sense and for promoting sustainability at Siemens.
“We are not a foundation who gives money and then turns around and goes away,” she said at a Siemens conference in Washington D.C. in 2013. “We want work with partners on the ground and understand their needs,” she said.
Chairman Joe Kaeser is promoting a similar course and is said to welcome Ms. Siemens’ ascension to the board.
“You can rely on us and on the values and competencies that made Siemens world-famous,” Mr. Kaeser said in a video message on the company’s website recently, after months of critical headlines about the company.
The Siemens family originally comes from Gehrden, near the Northern German town of Hanover. Werner Siemens, who was later known as Werner von Siemens after he was raised to the nobility in 1888 for his achievements and accumulated wealth, had thirteen siblings. He became first known for his invention of the electrolytic method of gold and silver plating in 1842 and later – in collaboration with Johann Georg Halske – for the design of the pointer telegraph in 1846 – both inventions were awarded a patent in former Prussia.
One year later, Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske founded Siemens, known as Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens und Halske at the time, in Berlin in 1847. Almost 170 years later, it became Europe’s largest engineering company, headquartered in Berlin and Munich with more than 340,000 employees worldwide.
Nathalie von Siemens is the first member of the family bearing the Siemens name on the panel since 2007, when her uncle, Peter von Siemens, retired at the age of 70.
In the light of the weakening position of the supervisory board chairman, 71-year-old Mr. Cromme, investors hope for change. Some say that BMW-chairman Norbert Reithofer, who is also a member of the supervisory board may be a better fit because of his age and experience, but others predict that Ms. von Siemens may take a more significant role in the restructuring of the company.
“Gerhard Cromme is becoming more and more a lame duck. It is time for him to prepare for a successor,” an investor said.
Franziska Scheven is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin, covering companies and markets and lifestyle. Gilbert Kreijger is an editor with the Global Edition, covering companies and markets. Axel Höpner is head of the Handelsblatt office in Munich, where Siemens and Allianz are headquartered. To contact the authors: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com