Car parts

Future of ZF's CEO uncertain after failed bid

Vorstandsvorsitzender der ZF Friedrichshafen AG
ZF might lose its driver, CEO Stefan Sommer. Source: picture alliance

Two attempts to buy New York-listed car-parts maker Wabco and a blunt interview that upset his shareholders will likely result in the departure of ZF Friedrichshafen’s boss, Stefan Sommer. It would mean a big boardroom shake-out at the top of the world’s fifth-largest car parts maker: Supervisory board chairman Giorgio Behr had already resigned with immediate effect on Tuesday evening.

At the next supervisory board meeting, due on December 12, replacements for both men could be top of the agenda, Handelsblatt learned from employees and labor representatives. Industry sources said the company’s majority-owner, the town of Friedrichshafen, has encouraged Mr. Sommer to resign. “There is massive pressure,” said a source close to the company. But so far Mr. Sommer has held out. With more than four years left on his contract, it would financially beneficial for him to be fired, rather than resign. But sources close to the CEO say his actions are for the good of the company, not his own financial position.

Mr. Sommer and Mr. Behr, both credited for buying US automated driving specialist TRW in 2015 for $12 billion, have fallen out of favor with its owner, the Zeppelin Foundation. Friedrichshafen, where ZF has its headquarters, controls the foundation and its mayor, Andreas Brand, has a seat on ZF’s supervisory board. The foundation and Friedrichshafen’s mayor Andreas Brand, have a different view of strategy and the pace of new acquisitions. They prefer to reduce ZF’s debt pile, which stood at €13 billion ($15.5 billion) at the end of June, including outstanding bills, before embarking on new takeovers.

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