Dual interview Klaus Keysberg/Bernhard Osburg
Mr. Keysberg, only eight months after his appointment as Spokesman of the Management Board, Premal Desai is already leaving his position. Why?
Keysberg: We have agreed with Premal Desai to terminate his contract by mutual consent. This was due to differing ideas about the orientation of the steel division. When a situation like this arises, you have to look each other in the eye and make a clean cut.
What were these different ideas?
Keysberg: thyssenkrupp owes Premal Desai a lot. He has been with the Group since 2006. In various functions, he set the course for the company and played an active role in forming the strategic direction of thyssenkrupp. Recently there have simply been different views between us on how to evaluate the current situation in the steel business. Even if there is agreement on the target, this does not necessarily apply to the road ahead. The separation is consensual, so there is nothing more to say about it, except: We are looking ahead.
So what is the way forward now?
Keysberg: Bernhard Osburg will assume the role of Spokesman for the Management Board and will continue to be responsible for sales. With Carsten Evers, previously Chief Financial Officer of Automotive Technology, an experienced CFO will join the Management Board. This role was previously held by Premal Desai, too. And as of April 1, Markus Grolms will join the board as Labor Director. Then the team – including Arnd Köfler – will be complete again.
Mr. Osburg, how do you intend to approach your new position now?
Osburg: I have known thyssenkrupp Steel for 20 years and helped to develop the 20-30 strategy. So I don't need an induction phase. We will now get straight down to work and concentrate on doing what is possible. We have to get a better grip on our production and administrative processes. It sounds like a typical management word, but the term "performance" hits the nail on the head: We have a lot of catching up to do in this area – in part compared to the competition, too.
How is this to be achieved?
Osburg: As part of our Strategy 20-30, we have analyzed our sales and procurement markets, our production as well as our organization. Everything was put to the test. The result is a consistent concept that we presented to the Supervisory Board last year as the Management Board. We must now quickly conclude the co-determination talks and then work through the necessary points step by step. This will be painful for the entire workforce, I am aware of that. We have been announcing the reduction of 2,000 jobs for some time now. But it does not help either to delay the necessary steps further and further.
Keysberg: What is important is that we continue to stand by steel. The 20-30 strategy is still the right one. Its implementation is our top priority. Steel is the nucleus of our company. Of course, it is still a cyclical and very capital-intensive business with excess capacities and high import pressure. That is why we continue to believe that alliances can be helpful. But: We must now do what we have in our own hands. We will reduce costs and align our processes even more closely with our customers. At the same time, we will systematically develop our product portfolio in the direction of high-margin products where we have advantages over the competition. In the long term, of course, climate-controlled steel, i.e. CO2-neutral steel, will also play a key role for us. Here we will be much more committed.
But doesn't Steel primarily need money from Essen to improve its performance?
Osburg: This attitude is part of the problem. First and foremost, we are responsible for ourselves. It is true that we need further investments to secure our competitive position in the medium and long term. This is also laid down in our strategy. But first, we must deliver and show that we are making the necessary progress, for example in restructuring. Our CEO Martina Merz has pointed out that the individual businesses must compete for investments. I think that is exactly right. Just making demands is not enough! I am firmly convinced that investments in Steel will be worthwhile in the medium term, but we must also prove this. And of course we still have some homework to do.
Keysberg: I agree. As the Executive Board of thyssenkrupp AG we have to think carefully about where we want to use the limited money. But one thing is also clear: Steel is a very important part of the new thyssenkrupp. That's why it is our common goal to make Steel successful again. As a team, pulling together.
What will the balance between you and Bernhard Osburg look like?
Keysberg: Responsibility for the operating business will remain with Steel. It is wrong to believe that I, as the Executive Board member responsible for the steel business, can manage the operating business from the headquarters in Essen. I don´t want that either. Proximity to business, yes. Support in overcoming hurdles, of course. And in the end we in the Group Executive Board also have to make strategic decisions and live up to our governance role. This can only be done in close cooperation with the Steel team. But operational responsibility lies in Duisburg. Steel is responsible for Steel.
What exactly is your role then?
Keysberg: Apart from deciding strategic issues, my role is to accompany the business – to scrutinize and help. If we want to make the right decisions as thyssenkrupp's Executive Board, we have to be close to the business. Only in this way can we understand: What is needed, what is possible and what is not. At thyssenkrupp we are currently changing the way we work with the business. We need a more natural way of dealing with each other and a stronger performance orientation. That also applies to Steel.
My role also includes representing the steel business in politics and standing up for our interests there. This takes the pressure off the Steel Board in Duisburg, which can thus concentrate more strongly on its operating business. Because one thing is very important to me: We want to actively shape the future of our steel business in Europe. To this end, we will enter into new alliances with politicians, codetermination and a wide range of partners in industry and society. The aim is to create an ecosystem for steel. This ranges from technical standards to financing. Only in this way can we secure the competitiveness of our locations in the long term.
Osburg: This allocation of roles is also in my interest. Klaus Keysberg has overall responsibility for the materials sector and thus also for the steel business. We in Duisburg will mainly concentrate on operational issues. This is where we have experience, this is our core competency. I am from Duisburg and I want thyssenkrupp Steel to finally return to its former strength. To this end we will work together with Klaus Keysberg on the issues.
My main interest here is: Where can we further optimize our cost situation? How can we reduce our costs? How can we strengthen our performance? And how can we return to being the quality and technology leader we used to be for decades? That is what drives me. And that's what I am fighting for.