HAMBURG, Germany — If everything had gone as planned, Rolf Kunisch would today be living under the beautiful and beneficent gaze of Mount Merapi in central Java. However, after successfully weathering more than one-and-a-half years of unrelenting takeover rumors and a shaky shareholder structure, the 62-year-old chief executive of Beiersdorf has instead signed on for another two-year term at the helm of the German company. He’s held the position since 1994.
“I was asked and I happily accepted,” Kunisch said in his office at Beiersdorf headquarters here. “I think it’s an honor. Talk to my wife, and she’ll give you a different story,” he noted, holding a photo of her standing in front of the chosen Javanese peak. But he added, “I could convince her that given the uncertainty about Beiersdorf, it would be helpful to have some element of stability [in the company]. Not that I ever thought I’d be an element of stability,” he said with a light chuckle in his voice.
Kunisch discussed the state of the company — and the market — with WWD almost two months to the day after a consortium lead by Tchibo bought Allianz’s long-shopped-around 40 percent stake in Beiersdorf, thus securing the company’s independence from would-be suitors like Procter & Gamble.
While Beiersdorf employees shouted in the halls with relief and joy when the news broke here on Oct. 23, 2003, Kunisch himself felt “empty,” he recalled. “The last time I felt like that was after my exams. You think it will be a day of excitement, that you will do all sorts of things, but you do nothing. Luckily, I had a speech, so I wasn’t here Oct. 24.”
Things are almost rumor-free at Beiersdorf these days, but not quite. While the EC has given the deal its blessing, the German financial regulator BaFin has yet to make its formal ruling. Minority shareholders have asked BaFin to look into the German coffee and retail chain Tchibo’s exemption from a new German takeover regulation requiring anyone taking over more than 30 percent of a firm to make an equal offer for all outstanding shares. As Tchibo already held 30 percent of Beiersdorf prior to the new law, the clause is widely held not to apply, but shareholders contend they’ve been given short shrift and are threatening lawsuits.
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