* ThyssenKrupp says board to elect Lehner on March 19
* Lehner to replace Cromme who is leaving end of March
* Lehner to give up other board seats - ThyssenKrupp (Adds details on Lehner’s appointment, background, Deutsche Telekom supervisory board member comment)
FRANKFURT, March 13 (Reuters) - ThyssenKrupp AG has named former Henkel chief executive Ulrich Lehner as the new chairman of its supervisory board, replacing Gerhard Cromme, who unexpectedly announced his resignation last week.
The German steelmaker said late on Wednesday that Lehner, 66, would restructure the supervisory board and make corporate governance and compliance core areas of its future work.
Lehner will have his work cut out for him as he steps in for Cromme, who has been criticised by some shareholders for failing to take responsibility for scandals and losses that cost half the management board their jobs last year.
The supervisory board said it would officially elect Lehner, who has been a member of the board since 2008, at an extraordinary meeting on March 19.
It said he would then give up positions on other boards to focus on ThyssenKrupp. Lehner is chairman of the supervisory board at Deutsche Telekom AG.
ThyssenKrupp’s biggest headache has been its Steel Americas business comprising two steel mills, in Brazil and Alabama, that have cost more than expected to set up and have generated losses.
A massive writedown on the value of Steel Americas led to a 4.7 billion euro (US$6.1 billion) annual loss last year, forcing ThyssenKrupp to pay no dividend for the first time since the 1999 merger of Thyssen and Krupp. At the same time, net debt climbed to 5.8 billion euros from 3.6 billion a year earlier.
ThyssenKrupp has also made headlines over scandals, including allegations that a board member took journalists on lavish junkets.
Some shareholders have said they would prefer a new chairman who is independent of the Krupp Foundation, ThyssenKrupp’s major stakeholder, or even an external candidate.
Cromme had been groomed to succeed the foundation’s 99-year-old patriarch Berthold Beitz, limiting the board’s ability to question his judgment on strategy.
The Krupp Foundation was founded in 1967 to shield steelmaker Krupp, which later merged with Thyssen to create ThyssenKrupp, from the personal interests of members of the Krupp family as well as from hostile takeover attempts.
It holds 25.3 percent of voting rights in ThyssenKrupp and can appoint three of the supervisory board’s 20 members.
Cromme, chosen by Beitz in 1986, oversaw mergers with Hoesch and Thyssen as chief executive and as chairman of the supervisory board he approved major strategic decisions, including the Steel Americas project.
A fellow board member at Deutsche Telekom, who declined to be named, told Reuters before ThyssenKrupp’s announcement, “Lehner doesn’t live by hierarchy. He is interested in the opinions of others. He is a good bridge builder.”
Lehner, who holds degrees in business administration and mechanical engineering, was chief executive of consumer goods maker Henkel from 2000 until 2008. He gathered some experience in the steel industry before managing Henkel, heading the controlling department of Krupp in the 1980s.
$1 = 0.7722 euros Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen