FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Three board members of ThyssenKrupp (TKAG.DE) have agreed to step down as part of changes in the leadership culture of the company, the German steelmaker said on Wednesday.
A statement said the personnel committee of the supervisory board and Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger have agreed to propose that the supervisory board releases Olaf Berlien, Edwin Eichler and Juergen Claassen from their functions from the end of this year.
It said the three "have agreed to lay down their functions and, by doing this, support the necessary changes in the leadership system and leadership culture" of the company.
ThyssenKrupp said the recommendation to the Supervisory Board recognized "the comprehensive responsibility of the Executive Board for the management as well as for the leadership culture of the Group".
It said an external audit had noted that one of reasons for the negative development of its Steel Americas business was that the former Executive Board based their decisions "on a series of assumptions and key data which were either clearly too optimistic or later proved to be incorrect".
Germany's biggest steelmaker is now trying sell its U.S. and Brazilian carbon steel mills, which comprise the loss-making Steel Americas, a division reportedly heading for a full-year loss of more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) this year.
ThyssenKrupp said the Supervisory Board had mandated on November 20 the external audit be made to assess its own role in the Steel Americas project.
It is scheduled to meet on December 10, a day before the company releases its full-year results to September 2012.
Berlien and Eichler in 2002 were appointed to the board headed by Ekkehard Schulz, who oversaw the construction of some $12 billion worth of two carbon steel plants and a stainless steel plant as part of expansion in North America.
Claassen, who was chief spokesman before joining the board a day after Schulz left in January last year, had already asked the Supervisory Board on December 1 to be released from his duties until further notice.
ThyssenKrupp said on Wednesday that further to the issues on Steel Americas, the company is currently confronted with the disclosure of a series of corruption and cartel cases.
"This also raises the question of the current leadership culture within the Group," it said.
ThyssenKrupp had previously said prosecutors were proving former employees over alleged fraud connected to suspicious payments in Eastern Europe while the German cartel office this year fined four rail track suppliers, including a unit of the steelmaker, for price-fixing.
The three executives' departure leaves Hiesinger with two board members - finance director Guido Kerkhoff and personnel head Ralph Labonte - who both came in after he took the reins a year ago.
Hiesinger is leading a radical streamlining effort that includes the sale of stainless unit Inoxum to Finnish rival Outokumpu (OUT1V.HE) and an ongoing auction of the North American plants.
Reporting By Marilyn Gerlach; Editing by Mike Nesbit