* New CEO Ulber is 28-year veteran of rival firm Kuehne
* CEO Ribar leaves after disappointing 2012 earnings
* Shares surge as much as 13 percent
* Kuehne says its attrition far below industry average
(Adds comment from Kuehne & Nagel, updates shares)
By Katharina Bart
ZURICH, April 3 Swiss transport and logistics
firm Panalpina is replacing its chief executive with a
veteran of rival Kuehne & Nagel following a spate of
Peter Ulber, who founded consulting firm Charleston
Enterprise last year after running Kuehne & Nagel's sea and air
logistics operations for two years, will become Panalpina's CEO
Ulber held various management postings in a 28-year career
at Kuehne, including in North and South America and Britain. He
takes over from 53-year-old Monika Ribar, one of the
highest-profile female executives in Switzerland, who has been
in the job for nearly seven years but had mixed fortunes of
Panalpina shares surged following the news, gaining as much
as 13 percent. At 1240 GMT, the stock was nearly 11.8 percent
higher at 94.10 Swiss francs, bucking a 0.2 percent slide in the
Stoxx 600 industrial goods and services sector.
"The management changes will breathe new life into
Panalpina. This is required," said Bank Sarasin analyst Patrick
Hasenboehler, citing a sharp fall in earnings recently as
shipping volumes dropped off. He upgraded the stock to "neutral"
from "reduce" following the announcement.
A Panalpina spokesman said Ribar was leaving to focus on
non-operational management jobs outside the company. Ribar,
previously a board member at Swiss private bank Julius Baer
, sits on the boards of Logitech, Sika
and Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss Airlines.
In an interview with Reuters, Ribar said she first
approached Panalpina's board in mid-2012 to begin succession
planning. While shareholders "are never happy with a poor share
price performance," she said her departure was unrelated to
recent earnings misses from Panalpina.
Under her management, a unit of Panalpina agreed in 2010 to
plead guilty in a U.S. investigation of bribing officials in at
least seven countries including Nigeria, Brazil and Russia on
behalf of its oil and gas industry clients. Panalpina and five
other logistics providers settled the bribery probe with a
combined $236 million in criminal and civil penalties.
More recently, Panalpina has been hit by sluggish air
freight trading. The company swung to a fourth-quarter loss
after taking charges for restructuring, staff cuts and writing
off goodwill in connection with the 2011 acquisition of
Norwegian-based Grieg Logistics.
Together with Robert Erni, another former Kuehne & Nagel
veteran poached by Panalpina as finance chief just over a year
ago, Ulber must now restore profitability, even as shipping
volumes remain low.
Analysts said the management change at Panalpina also
highlighted the challenges facing Kuehne & Nagel, which has lost
several high-ranking executives as both its CEO, Reinhard Lange,
and finance chief, Gerard van Kesteren, near retirement age.
"Kuehne & Nagel has lost its two crown princes to Panalpina
and is now still in search for replacements. This raises
questions about the ability of the board to retain high level
talent," Bank Vontobel analyst Michael Foeth said.
Earlier this month, Kuehne & Nagel said CEO Lange would step
down in May for undisclosed health reasons.
A spokeswoman for Kuehne & Nagel said chairman Karl Gernandt
would ensure continuity by acting as CEO until a replacement for
Lange was appointed, adding the company's attrition rate for top
talent was "far below" the industry average.
Panalpina's major shareholder is the Ernst Goehner
foundation, which holds 43.6 percent of Panalpina shares. Cevian
Capital, a European activist fund, holds roughly 11 percent.
Both are represented on Panalpina's board.
($1 = 0.9484 Swiss francs)
(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Mark Potter)