ABB names Sulzer boss as new chief executive

ABB, the Swiss-Swedish engineering group, on Friday ended the uncertainty about the succession to Jürgen Dormann with the appointment of Fred Kindle, head of Sulzer, as chief executive.

Mr Kindle, a 44-year-old trained engineer, has been chief executive of the smaller Swiss engineering group for more than four years and helped steer it through a difficult restructuring.

Mr Kindle's appointment is something of a surprise given the widespread speculation that Mr Dormann, who will continue as ABB's chairman after he steps down as chief executive at year-end, would be succeeded by Peter Voser, the group's respected finance director.

The balance may have been tipped against Mr Voser - or other internal candidates - by the fact that Mr Kindle already headed a company - albeit much smaller - and had direct experience of leading a restructuring in difficult times.

"The timing is good, the age is right, he is solid and stress resistant. And he has the right personality", said Mr Dormann.

Mr Dormann played down fears that the appointment, to take effect from September 1 to allow a four-month hand-over, would trigger departures among disappointed internal candidates.

"Peter (Voser) is an excellent chief financial officer and he's a strong team player, so I'm convinced he will stay", said Mr Dormann.

The task facing Mr Kindle, a McKinsey consultant before joining Sulzer in 1992, has been eased by ABB's turnround since Mr Dormann took on the additional job of chief executive 18 months ago.

However, while survival for what was once one of Europe's flagship companies is no longer an issue, heading ABB in the intensely competitive world of power and automation technologies sectors remains daunting.

Mr Kindle, a Liechtensteiner, said he thought ABB was "a company with enormous potential" that had undergone a "tremendous turnround". He described his strengths as being able to roll up his sleeves and take direct charge when necessary, while also being able to work harmoniously with a strong management team

Both executives dismissed possible frictions once Mr Dormann concentrated exclusively on the chairmanship. Under Swiss law, the chairman and board of directors have broad responsibility for strategy, while execution and daily management lies with the chief executive and management board.

ABB, which had net debts of $7.9bn at the end of 2003, continues to be dogged by concerns about asbestos related law suits while it slims down its business.

Mr Dormann said he remained optimistic ABB could settle its asbestos dispute and raise its credit rating - targets he had set himself when taking on the chief executive's job 18 months ago - before he stepped down.

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