Infineon rows with investors over chairman

City A.M. Reporter
GERMAN chipmaker Infineon tried to appease hostile investors yesterday by saying chairman-designate Klaus Wucherer would serve only one year of his five-year term if elected, while searching for a better candidate to take over the role permanently.

The announcement came as opposition rose to Infineon’s choice of Wucherer to head its supervisory board. US investor service RiskMetrics yesterday said in a research report that it supported his rival instead.

RiskMetrics, which has collected the voting rights of a large number of mostly US institutional investors ahead of Infineon’s annual general meeting on the 11 February, supports Willi Berchtold, the finance chief of ZF Friedrichshafen who is also favoured by UK pension fund Hermes.

“On balance we conclude that the presence of Willi Berchtold on the Infineon board would likely prove beneficial to long-term shareholder value,” RiskMetrics said.

Infineon declined to comment.

Infineon chief executive officer Peter Bauer and outgoing supervisory board chairman Max Dietrich Kley want Wucherer, a current Infineon supervisory board member and a former Siemens management board member, to take the seat.

Infineon’s US investors, which hold a major part of the company’s shares, have significantly influenced company decisions in the past, and the move is the latest step in what could become a high profile conflict between the company’s management and its shareholders.

In response, Wucherer said yesterday: “Investors are not bound to RiskMetrics’ proposal. Shareholders would have to know first where Berchtold wants to take the company.”

Earlier this week, Wucherer said he was confident that he would be elected as chairman.

Hermes has said it wants Berchtold to chair the board in order to change the management culture at the troubled chipmaker, whose supervisory board was long dominated by former Siemens executives or confidants.

Infineon, the fourth largest among mobile chipmakers, was spun off from engineering group Siemens in 1999 and listed in 2000.