Clariant in transition phase with more divestments planned, CEO hunt

Author: Morgan Condon

2020/02/13

ZURICH, Switzerland (ICIS)--Clariant is in a “clear transition phase” redefining the business’ direction over the next couple of years, the acting CEO at the Swiss specialty chemicals producer said on Thursday.

Hariolf Kottmann added that Clariant is looking for a new CEO as the executive committee and board continues to play an active role in shaping the company’s future direction.

The focus is on finding the right person “as soon as possible, not as fast as possible”, according to Kottmann, who returned to the helm of Clariant after Ernesto Occhiello’s short-lived tenure last year.

“We designed a profile of the personality, the skills, and [what that person] should look like. There is nothing extraordinary included here, we are just looking for a capable woman or a capable man who can guide a company like Clariant,” said Kottmann, speaking to reporters in Zurich.

“We cannot wait [for further corporate moves] until a new CEO is in place … There is competition and a market, and if you do not change the way you operate, then you are irrelevant – which can happen in one-two years.”

The process to find someone to take the helm of Clariant has continued since Kottmann’s returned to the role after Occhiello, but the incumbent asserted his opinion on remaining in the position.

“I am not interested to staying in the position for the next two-three years in this role, this is a clear transition phase,” he added.

This comes in the wake of the announcement that CFO of 15 years Patrick Jany will be leaving the company to take up the mantle of CFO at Netherlands-headquartered shipping and logistics major Maersk.

Clariant is continuing its divestment strategy, started last year with the sale of its healthcare business to Arsenal Capital Partners and the recent divestment of its masterbatch business unit to PolyOne.

The business is continuing to adapt its portfolio with the sale of its pigments segment, as the transaction is expected to be finalised before the end of 2020.

“Clariant’s 2019 results, particularly Q4, reflect resilience of our core business in a challenging economic environment,” said Kottmann.

“This strategy will enable a smaller more streamlined Clariant to enhance quality of its portfolio and earnings by focusing on its base cases.”

Clariant published earlier on Thursday its fourth-quarter and annual results, with 2019 sales and earnings before exceptional items flat year on year.

The strategy to focus on core business units – care chemicals, catalysts and natural resources – follows several years of transition for the company, where plans to harness growth fell through.

“The shrinking process of the company for us is not the end of the world, it is something which is happening now, and we are preparing in order to be more competitive, to be more profitable, and to focus our portfolio to be more specialised,” said outgoing CFO Jany, also at the press conference.

“Unfortunately, the logical first step of increasing the size of the company did not happen.”

Jany was referring to plans to grow through a joint venture with Clariant’s larger shareholder, Saudi petrochemicals major SABIC, which owns a 24.99% stake.

Plans for a high performance materials joint venture fell through in 2019, but professional relationships between the two companies remain intact, with much discussion focussing on Clariant’s supply of catalysts the Saudi Arabian major.

This, in turn, has enabled the Swiss-headquartered producer to go back and shape its future direction, added Jany.

“Regular business is our objective until 2021, the year we define what the company should look like. We have a very clear strategy, a way how to get there and to achieve this,” he added.

Investors received Clariant’s financial results with a buying spree, sending its shares on the Swiss stock exchange up 4.88% by 15:00 local time to Swiss francs (Swfr) 23.66 ($24.16).

Clariant’s stock peaked in 2018 at Swfr29.32, before it scrapped a merger with US chemicals major Huntsman. Since August 2019, they have risen from Swfr17.28.

(Swfr1 = $1.02)

Front page picture: Clariant's acting CEO Hariolf Kottmann (left) and outgoing CFO Patrick Jany
Source: Clariant

Focus article by Morgan Condon

ICIS will publish an interview with Patrick Jany on Friday

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