* Media-Saturn founder Kellerhals owns 22 pct blocking minority
* Kellerhals impatient over Media-Saturn CEO replacement
* Metro hoped court ruling would let it sidestep Kellerhals
* Dispute delayed online entry, scuppered China plans (Adds Metro reaction)
By Emma Thomasson and Matthias Inverardi
BERLIN/DUESSELDORF, April 29 (Reuters) - The founder of Europe’s biggest electronics chain Media-Saturn launched an attack on Tuesday on the company’s majority owners, retailer Metro, escalating a long-running dispute over the management of the chain.
Media-Saturn’s billionaire founder, Erich Kellerhals, still owns a stake of close to 22 percent and has regularly disagreed with Metro over its management of the business, most notably delaying the group’s move into the fast-growing online market.
“I am deeply concerned about how Media-Saturn is currently being administered by Metro. I deliberately say ‘administered’ because at present there is no sign of entrepreneurial leadership,” Kellerhals said in a statement on Tuesday.
Metro described the comments as “amazing and outlandish” and said Kellerhals’ actions were harmful to Media-Saturn, according to a emailed statement from the company’s spokesman.
“The emotionally charged allegations of Mr Kellerhals serve no purpose, nor do they correspond to the facts,” he said. “He should finally stop damaging Media-Saturn and ultimately all its employees with his inaccurate public accusations.”
Metro had hoped a court ruling in December that allows it to sidestep Kellerhals’ veto over critical business decisions would enable it to push ahead with its strategy for the unit that accounts for about a third of the group’s sales.
But Kellerhals still has a say in top appointments and last week made a call on his own website for applications to replace Media-Saturn Chief Executive Horst Norberg when he retires next year, saying Metro was moving too slowly.
Metro’s spokesman said it was “completely unprofessional” to advertise for a new CEO online and appealed to Kellerhals to work together with the group for the future of Media-Saturn.
Metro, Europe’s fourth-biggest retailer, which also runs wholesale outlets, hypermarkets and department stores, has been fighting to stop sales sliding in recent years due to online competition and tough economic conditions in its core markets.
It reports results for its second quarter, which runs from January to March, on May 8.
Media-Saturn, the world’s second biggest consumer electronics chain after Best Buy, which competes with Dixons Retail and Darty Plc, saw sales fall 0.7 percent to 6.6 billion euros ($9 billion) in the last quarter of 2013, hurt by falling currencies in eastern Europe.
Kellerhals said Media-Saturn, which has almost 1,000 stores in 16 countries employing 64,000 staff, was being run more and more from the centre, with an increasing focus on financial indicators to the detriment of the operating business.
“It is no good if customers face half-empty shelves so you can impress equity analysts with low inventories and great working capital figures. Numbers are important but customers and employees are more important for long-term success,” he said.
Kellerhals pulled out of a Media-Saturn joint venture in China in 2012, saying Metro should have expanded there more quickly and aggressively. Metro later scrapped the venture in China altogether, citing tough market competition.
Kellerhals opened the first Media Markt store in Munich in 1979, entering into a partnership in 1988 with the forerunner of the Metro Group, which brought Media Markt together with its Saturn chain and drove a global expansion. ($1 = 0.7223 Euros) (Editing by Keiron Henderson)