* Media-Saturn founder Kellerhals owns 22 pct blocking
* Kellerhals impatient over Media-Saturn CEO replacement
* Metro hoped court ruling would let it sidestep Kellerhals
* Dispute delayed online entry, scuppered China plans
By Emma Thomasson and Matthias Inverardi
BERLIN/DUESSELDORF, April 29 The founder of
Europe's biggest electronics chain Media-Saturn on Tuesday
launched an attack on the company's majority owners, retailer
Metro, escalating a long-running dispute over the
management of the chain.
Media-Saturn's billionaire founder, Erich Kellerhals, still
owns a stake of close to 22 percent and has regularly disagreed
with Metro over its management of the business, most notably
delaying the group's move into the fast-growing online market.
"I am deeply concerned about how Media-Saturn is currently
being administered by Metro. I deliberately say 'administered'
because at present there is no sign of entrepreneurial
leadership," Kellerhals said in a statement on Tuesday.
Metro declined any immediate comment on the statement.
Metro had hoped a court ruling in December that allows it to
sidestep Kellerhals' veto over critical business decisions would
enable it to push ahead with its strategy for the unit that
accounts for about a third of the group's sales.
But Kellerhals still has a say in top appointments and last
week made a call on his own website for applications to replace
Media-Saturn boss Horst Norberg when he retires next year,
saying Metro was moving too slowly with succession planning.
"I don't understand why such important decisions are put on
the back burner," he said.
Metro, Europe's fourth-biggest retailer which also runs
wholesale outlets, hypermarkets and department stores, has been
fighting to stop sales sliding in recent years due to online
competition and tough economic conditions in its core markets.
It reports results for its second quarter, which runs from
January to March, on May 8.
Media-Saturn, the world's second biggest consumer
electronics chain after Best Buy, which competes with
Dixons Retail and Darty Plc, saw sales fall
0.7 percent to 6.6 billion euros ($9 billion) in the last
quarter of 2013, hurt by falling currencies in eastern Europe.
Kellerhals said Media-Saturn, which has almost 1,000 stores
in 16 countries employing 64,000 staff, was being run more and
more from the centre, with an increasing focus on financial
indicators to the detriment of the operating business.
"It is no good if customers face half-empty shelves so you
can impress equity analysts with low inventories and great
working capital figures. Numbers are important but customers and
employees are more important for long-term success," he said.
Kellerhals pulled out of a Media-Saturn joint venture in
China in 2012, saying Metro should have expanded there more
quickly and aggressively. Metro later scrapped the venture in
China altogether, citing tough market competition.
Kellerhals opened the first Media Markt store in Munich in
1979, entering into a partnership in 1988 with the forerunner of
the Metro Group, which brought Media Markt together with its
Saturn chain and drove a global expansion.
($1 = 0.7223 Euros)
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)