Klaus Zumwinkel, Deutsche Telekom chairman, is under pressure from fellow non-executive directors to leave his post at the troubled telecoms group when his contract expires next year.
The Financial Times has learned that several supervisory board members have questioned whether Mr Zumwinkel can devote enough time to a group in the throes of painful changes.
Any public discussion about the chairman’s future is likely to add to turbulence at Deutsche Telekom, which faces its first strike over pay cuts since privatisation started in 1996.
People familiar with the situation said Mr Zumwinkel, also chief executive of Deutsche Post and chairman of Postbank, wanted to delay any decision on his future at Deutsche Telekom until late in the year.
Mr Zumwinkel and key shareholders can decide to extend his tenure beyond May 2008 after Thursday’s annual meeting.
Blackstone, the private equity group and Deutsche Telekom’s second biggest shareholder, tried to unseat Mr Zumwinkel last autumn when the supervisory board replaced then-chief executive Kai-Uwe Ricke with René Obermann.
At the time the German government, which owns one-third of the group, rejected the US investor’s complaints about possible conflicts of interest and lack of attention.
But doubts about Mr Zumwinkel at Telekom have since come to occupy the government representative and other members of the board, according to people familiar with the situation. The government would prefer a quiet departure for Mr Zumwinkel. Berlin does not want to damage his standing at Deutsche Post, which he must prepare for the end of its letter monopoly in January.
The government would be in a tight spot should he publicly declare a wish to carry on. All parties said he could yet stay.
People familiar with events said Mr Zumwinkel had damaged ties to allies at a board meeting in early December when he tried to push his preferred candidate into the top job at personnel.
The turbulent session left Deutsche Telekom without a personnel head just as it geared up for talks with unions about cutting the pay of one quarter of its workforce in Germany.
Mr Zumwinkel, Deutsche Telekom and the government declined to comment.