(Adds share price)
* Former Akzo, Imerys exec Conrad Keijzer named CEO
* To take over on Jan. 1
* Company slimming down, faces M&A speculation
ZURICH, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Speciality chemicals maker Clariant named industry veteran Conrad Keijzer as its chief executive on Wednesday to deliver a restructuring plan after a year of turmoil and decide whether the Swiss company should remain independent.
Keijzer, a 52-year-old Dutchman, spent most of his career at paints maker Akzo Nobel but served as CEO of France-based chemicals firm Imerys for 21 months before quitting in October 2019 amid falling profits.
Pressing business for Keijzer when he joins Clariant on Jan. 1 will include cutting around 1,000 jobs, a programme announced in late November as the company slims down following a series of divestments.
Clariant is still trying to offload its pigments division, a move delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic that managers said recently could now come by June 2021.
Baader Helvea analyst Markus Mayer said Keijzer’s appointment was “an improvement from the current situation,” but added his time at Imerys raised questions.
“At Imerys, we saw Mr. Keijzer more as a lone wolf who did not go along with the Board of Directors most of the time,” he said. “Additionally, (Imerys) did not manage to perform well in Fiscal Year 2019.”
At 1410 GMT, Clariant shares were up 0.9% at 18.25 Swiss francs.
On a call with reporters on Wednesday, Keijzer acknowledged conflicts with Imerys’ board leadership before his departure.
The CEO post at Clariant, vacant for more than a year, was filled on an interim basis by former CEO and current Chairman Hariolf Kottmann, who drove Clariant’s 2017 failed merger bid with Huntsman before activist investors blocked it.
Kottmann also halted a 2019 joint venture with Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC), still Clariant’s biggest investor with around a 30% stake, after a disagreement over price. Kottmann remains chairman.
Analysts including from Barclays have said they consider a slimmed-down Clariant, whose remaining divisions produce about $4 billion in annual revenue, a target for a buyer or merger.
“We can’t rule out more bid speculation but don’t think valuation appropriately compensates investors for the risk,” Barclays wrote in a note this week.
Asked about speculation that Clariant is a takeover target, Keijzer said only that he anticipated both organic growth and acquisitions.
Baader Helvea’s Mayer said Keijzer’s ties to Akzo Nobel could make him appropriate leader, should Clariant combine with Nouryon, the former Akzo Nobel speciality chemicals business now owned by private equity company Carlyle.
On the call with reporters, Kottmann said Clariant talked to Akzo Nobel years ago about a possible deal for Nouryon assets, before Carlyle stepped in.
“It’s difficult to talk about what’s going on at Nouryon,” Kottmann said, when asked a potential deal. “The situation today is totally different.” (Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Aditya Soni and Mark Potter)
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