AMSTERDAM Dutch group AkzoNobel (AKZO.AS) named Ton Buechner, head of Swiss machinery maker Sulzer (SUN.S), as chief executive from April 2012, a move that could see the world's biggest paints company seek acquisitions.
Buechner, who pulled off a $1 billion deal earlier this year giving Sulzer access to the fast-growing wastewater market, will succeed Hans Wijers, 60 and CEO since 2003.
Wijers, a former Dutch government minister, has been credited with transforming AkzoNobel, moving it ahead of U.S. rivals PPG (PPG.N) and Sherwin-Williams (SHW.N).
Buechner, a 45 year-old Dutch national who has spent part of his career in southeast Asia and China, faces the challenge of driving AkzoNobel's growth by expanding in emerging markets.
The company has a revenue target of 20 billion euros ($29 billion) for 2015 -- up from 14.6 billion in 2010 -- while keeping a 13-15 percent EBITDA margin level.
Analysts have said it will likely have to make acquisitions to achieve such an ambitious target.
"What we can see from the incoming CEO at Sulzer is a fairly active M&A track record," ING analyst Fabian Smeets said. "With Akzo's clean balance sheet and having digested its (big) acquisition, we might see some more active M&A."
Wijers turned AkzoNobel into a group focused on paints and coatings when he sold drugs unit Organon to U.S. pharmaceutical firm Schering-Plough and used the proceeds to buy British paints company ICI in 2007 for 8 billion pounds ($13 billion).
AkzoNobel shares were down 0.33 percent at 1252 GMT on Friday, in line with the Amsterdam market, while Sulzer was down 5.75 percent. Analysts said Buechner's departure was a blow for Sulzer, which makes pumps for the oil and gas industry as well as surface coatings for jet engines.
M&A, CHINA EXPERIENCE
Earlier this year, Sulzer agreed to buy Cardo's Flow Solutions business from Assa Abloy (ASSAb.ST), a Sweden-based water pumps business, for 858 million Swiss francs ($1.02 billion), its biggest buy in recent years giving access to the fast-growing wastewater market.
Buechner, an avid snowboarder, was chief representative responsible for Sulzer operations in China. He had previously worked for AkerKvaener in Southeast Asia for several years.
Analysts said his Asia experience would be a bonus for AkzoNobel, given it wanted to expand in high-growth markets.
"The next step is to grow in the emerging markets and China, which is where the overlap comes in with Ton," SNS Securities analyst Michel Veul said.
Sulzer said it had started the search for a successor to Buechner, who joined the company in 1994.
"Investors will take this news negatively ... Nevertheless, Sulzer is in a great shape, has a capable management team in place and should manage a seamless transition," Vontobel analyst Fabian Haecki said.
Buechner will start at AkzoNobel in January and work with Wijers until the annual general meeting next April, AkzoNobel said. Wijers has not said what he plans to do when he leaves.
(Additional reporting by Roberta B. Cowan in Amsterdam and Katie Reid in Zurich; Editing by David Cowell and Dan Lalor)