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    Uniper Top Brass Make Way for Fortum Talks


The CEO and CFO had opposed Fortum's attempts at controlling the German company but now the stalemate risks damaging shareholder value.

by: William Powell

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NGW News Alert, Natural Gas & LNG News, Europe, Corporate, Mergers & Acquisitions, News By Country, EU, Finland, Germany

Uniper Top Brass Make Way for Fortum Talks

German utility Uniper is to reopen talks with Finnish Fortum and end the deadlock over the company’s future, it said late February 5. At the same time, CEO Klaus Schafer and CFO Christopher Delbruck, who both opposed Fortum's participation, have resigned with effect from August 31. CCO Keith Martin and COO Eckhardt Rummler will negotiate for Uniper.

Uniper chairman Bernhard Reutersberg said he was in agreement with his counterpart at Fortum Matti Lievonen and Fortum CEO Pekka Lundmark that the situation cannot continue as too much is at stake for the two companies.

He said: “It’s time for decisive action, for taking the next steps, and for rapprochement. This marks a new beginning in the relationship between Uniper and its biggest stakeholder. We don’t today know what ultimately will come of it. But we’re starting now."

Fortum tried to buy the Uniper outright after securing a commitment from E.ON to sell its 46.65% stake for €3.76bn, but in the end its low-ball bids for shares left it with less than half the total. E.ON had spun off Uniper, which represented mainly Ruhrgas assets and some coal-fired generation, in order to focus on the energy transition.  

Almost exactly a year ago when the Fortum bid failed February 7, Schafer said: “We are strengthened by the trust placed in us by our shareholders, who overwhelmingly followed our recommendation and did not accept the takeover offer. This shows us that the capital market continues to believe in our strategy and our long-term competitiveness as an independent company." 

However in the February 5 statement Reutersberg said: "The objective is to determine, on the operational and strategic level, in which areas and how a partnership between the two companies adds value and to reach an understanding about this. A working group, led on the Uniper side by Keith Martin and Eckhardt Rummler, will engage in discussions, without a predetermined outcome, about the areas the strategic partnership could encompass in order to create value for all shareholders. For this purpose, initial proposals are to be developed as soon as possible.”

Schafer, who has been having cancer treatment, said his illness was preventing him from devoting the necessary energy to building a strategic partnership with Fortum. “Ensuring Uniper’s future viability was and remains something I’m very passionate about. That’s why I’ve made a very conscious decision to step aside for someone able to devote all their energy to this task and, at the same time, embark on this process unprejudiced,” he said.

Thanking his colleagues, he said that they together had made “Uniper what it is today, a strong company with highly dedicated employees and a special culture. This will certainly help Uniper also in the challenges ahead.”

Delbruck said he had always made his position clear regarding Uniper’s future and working with Fortum was not the path for him. But Uniper’s success story must continue, independent of individuals, he said.

Uniper is building gas and coal fired power plants and lining up deals and infrastructure projects to deliver pipeline gas and LNG to Germany. It also has activities elswhere in the world.