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Clariant chairman to go in compromise deal with SABIC

John Miller
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: CEO Kottmann of the Swiss specialty-chemical company Clariant addresses a news conference in Zurich

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - Clariant Chairman Hariolf Kottmann, who hailed the arrival of Saudi Arabia's SABIC as the chemical maker's top shareholder three years ago, became a casualty on Monday of a deal to try to patch up relations between the two sides.

The Swiss company said Kottmann would not stand for re-election in April.

The 65-year-old has led Clariant for more than a decade, but Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) has become increasingly disenchanted with him, particularly after a planned joint venture collapsed in 2019.

In a post-Christmas coup attempt, SABIC, which has a 31.5% stake in Clariant, sought Kottmann's ouster by proposing a time-limit for board members. It also demanding a 2 Swiss francs per-share special dividend analysts feared would drain the company's coffers of 670 million francs ($749 million).

To defuse the crisis, Clariant's board is proposing director Guenter von Au become chairman, and has agreed with SABIC an ordinary dividend totaling just 0.70 francs per share.

"We welcome the lower dividend, since liquidity is important during the coronavirus crisis," Bank Vontobel's Sibylle Bischofberger said.

Kottmann, through Clariant, declined an interview.

Clariant's shares fell 0.5%.

RISE AND FALL

Kottmann, a German chemist, arrived in 2008 as CEO when Clariant was going through a rough patch. He sold lower-margin businesses after bulking up with the $2 billion 2011 acquisition of Germany's Sued-Chemie.

In 2017, however, his coveted mega-deal with U.S.-based Huntsman Corp. was dashed by U.S. activist investors, prompting him to find SABIC, a long-time Clariant customer, as a white knight to buy the Americans' big stake.

Since then, however, his relationship with the Saudi chemicals company controlled by Aramco has unraveled: A longtime SABIC manager who became Clariant's CEO quit suddenly in 2019, just before the joint-venture's cancellation.

Since then, Clariant - since December under new CEO Conrad Keijzer - has been offloading units to focus on its fastest growing businesses, including the proposed disposal of its pigments unit, potentially by July.

SABIC had no immediate comment.

($1 = 0.8915 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and John Miller. Editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Mark Potter)