* Metro in long-running battle with Media-Saturn founder
* Metro CEO says “drama must now end”
* Reiterates offer to buy founder’s stake in Media-Saturn
* Sales falling amid fierce online competition
DUESSELDORF, Germany, May 13 (Reuters) - The CEO of Germany’s Metro wants to end a long-running battle with the founder of Media-Saturn, the retailer’s market-leading European electronics chain, but will bypass him if they cannot reach agreement, he was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
Metro, the majority owner of the Media-Saturn chain that accounts for a third of group earnings, has been wrangling for years with its founder Erich Kellerhals, who still owns a 22 percent stake, delaying the chain’s entry into e-commerce.
The dispute has escalated in recent weeks, with Kellerhals calling Metro CEO Olaf Koch a “dictator”. The row prompted the resignation of Media-Saturn CEO Horst Norberg last week, with Metro appointing Pieter Haas as his acting replacement.
Koch said he and Haas had met Kellerhals last Friday to try to clear the air, proposing to discuss first with him future important decisions before they are formally approved.
“We want to take the edge off the situation with this approach,” Koch told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview. “This drama must now end.”
However, Koch said he would not allow Kellerhals to stand in the way of a new company strategy to accelerate growth of online sales and if necessary would make use of an advisory council that allows him to sidestep the founder’s veto over decisions.
Koch added that Metro remained prepared to buy Kellerhals’ stake in Media-Saturn, although he noted that the founder had always rejected that offer in the past.
Wolfgang Kirsch, head of Media-Saturn in its home market Germany, told Reuters in an interview on Friday he hopes express home delivery services will help offset pressure on margins and boost online revenues.
Media-Saturn, the world’s second-biggest consumer electronics chain after Best Buy, saw sales slide 5.8 percent in Germany in its fiscal second quarter, prompting Metro to cut its full-year earnings forecast for the unit last week. (Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Mark Potter)