Sandvik CEO emerges as front-runner for top job at ABB

Sandvik CEO Bjorn Rosengren. Image courtesy of Sandvik AB

Sandvik AB Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Rosengren has emerged as the front-runner for the top job at Swiss engineering giant ABB Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter.

An announcement could be made in the coming weeks though ABB has yet to make a final decision, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private. ABB and Sandvik declined to comment.

Rosengren, 60, would be taking over at ABB from Chairman Peter Voser, who has been acting as interim CEO since Ulrich Spiesshofer surprised analysts in April by abruptly stepping down amid pressure from major investors. Spiesshofer’s nearly six-year stint at the helm of ABB was marked by meager stock returns and a public row with an activist shareholder, Cevian Capital.

Voser, also 60, said on a conference call last week that ABB’s CEO search was going “better than planned.”

ABB is selling the bulk of its power grid division to Hitachi Ltd. for about $6.4 billion, leaving the company more concentrated on robotics and automation. Spiesshofer had long resisted the move, which was pushed by Cevian, but eventually gave in.

Just before the former CEO’s exit, shareholder Artisan Partners added to the pressure by calling for a further breakup of ABB through the separation of its electrification business. The proposal was later endorsed by Cevian co-founder Lars Forberg, who sits on ABB’s board.

In announcing Spiesshofer’s departure, Voser pledged changes to the CEO role, saying it would evolve to focus on strategy and company culture while allowing ABB’s four businesses to be run more independently.

At Sandvik, Rosengren embarked on an overhaul after taking the reins in 2015 and rebuilt shareholder confidence by delivering on financial goals ahead of schedule, with a boost from an upturn in demand. He also decentralized Sandvik’s structure, reduced costs and sold units including a steel conveyor-belt business.

He identified measuring technology and 3-D printing as two areas for expansion for Stockholm-based Sandvik, which makes cutting tools, steel products and mining equipment. The shares have approximately doubled since Rosengren began as CEO in November 2015.

(By Albertina Torsoli and Jan-Henrik Förster, with assistance from Leonard Kehnscherper and Niclas Rolander)

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