VIENNA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The Austrian government has chosen the director of a Vienna hospital, who is a political ally of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, to head a holding company it set up last month to manage government stakes in public companies.
Helmut Kern, who is head of the Hospital of St John of God in Vienna and sits on the University of Vienna’s board, will become chief of the supervisory board of Austrian Holdings AG (OBAG), the finance ministry said on Thursday.
Kern, 53, also worked with Kurz’s 2017 election campaign team but is not high-profile in politics.
The government of Kurz’s conservatives and coalition partner the far-right Freedom Party wants more influence over its corporate holdings and that policy has already prompted two high-profile directors of public companies to resign.
The government has stakes in companies including oil firm OMV, Austrian Post and Telekom Austria .
The announcement of Kern’s appointment comes a day after the head of state-owned utility Verbund’s supervisory board said he was quitting over the government’s plans to flex its muscles more on company boards.
OMV’s supervisory board chief Peter Loescher also stepped down over the government’s new policy.
What Austria intends to do with its stakes is unclear.
Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger has said the government has no plans to sell them, and by setting up OBAG it has opened the door to topping them up more easily.
“The OBAG supervisory board’s future decisions (will) set the course for important ownership decisions regarding companies that are highly relevant in terms of their location and the economy,” the ministry said, without elaborating.
The government’s corporate holdings include a 31.5 percent stake in OMV, a 52.9 percent stake in Austrian Post and a 28.4 percent stake in Telekom Austria.
Kern’s appointment will be made official at the supervisory board’s first meeting on Friday. He also previously worked as a consultant at Deloitte Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the ministry said.
“For Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger, prominence in the media or public positions are deliberately not the grounds on which members of the supervisory board are selected,” the ministry said in a statement. “Rather, candidates’ professional suitability and integrity are.” (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Susan Fenton)