There is perhaps no tougher task for an executive than to restructure a European organization. Ask former Siemens CEO Klaus Kleinfeld.
Siemens, with 77 billion euros in revenue in 2008, some 427,000 employees, and branches in 190 countries, is one of the largest electronics companies in the world. Although the company has long been respected for its engineering prowess, it’s also derided for its sluggishness and mechanistic structure. So when Kleinfeld took over as CEO, he sought to restructure the company along the lines of what Jack Welch did at General Electric. He has tried to make the structure less bureaucratic so decisions are made more quickly. He spun off underperforming businesses. And he simplified the company’s structure.
Kleinfeld’s efforts drew angry protests from employee groups, with constant picket lines outside his corporate offices. One of the challenges of transforming European organizations is the customary active participation of employees in executive decisions. Half the seats on the Siemens’ board of directors are allocated to labor representatives. Not surprisingly, the labor groups did not react positively to Kleinfeld’s GE-like restructuring efforts. In his efforts to speed those efforts, labor groups alleged, Kleinfeld secretly bankrolled a business-friendly workers’ group to try to undermine Germany’s main industrial union.
Due to this and other allegations, Kleinfeld was forced out in June 2007 and replaced by Peter Löscher. Löscher has found the same tensions between inertia and the need for restructuring. Only a month after becoming CEO, Löscher was faced with a decision whether to spin off the firm’s underperforming 10 billion-euro auto parts unit, VDO. He had to weigh the forces for stability, which want to protect worker interests, against US-style pressures for financial performance. One of VDO’s possible buyers is a US company, TRW, the controlling interest of which is held by Blackstone, a US private equity firm. German labor representatives have derided such private equity firms as “locusts.” When Löscher decided to sell VDO to German tire giant Continental Corporation, Continental promptly began to downsize and restructure the unit’s operations.
Löscher has continued to restructure Siemens. In mid-2008, he announced elimination of nearly 17,000 jobs worldwide. He also announced plans to consolidate more business units and reorganize the company’s operations geographically. “The speed at which business is changing worldwide has increased considerably, and we’re orienting Siemens accordingly,” Löscher said.
Since the switch from Kleinfeld to Löscher, Siemens has experienced its ups and downs. Since 2008, its stock price has fallen 26 percent on the European stock exchange and is down 31 percent on the New York Stock Exchange. That is better than some competitors, such as France’s Alcatel-Lucent (down 83 percent) and General Electric (down 69 percent), and worse than others, such as IBM (up 8 percent) and the Swiss/Swedish conglomerate ABB (down 15 percent).
Though Löscher’s restructuring efforts have generated far less controversy than Kleinfeld’s, that doesn’t mean they went over well with all constituents. Of the 2008 job cuts, Werner Neugebauer, regional director for a union representing many Siemens employees, said, “The planned job cuts are incomprehensible nor acceptable for these reasons, and in this extent, completely exaggerated.”
When asked by a reporter whether the cuts would be controversial, Löscher retorted, “I couldn’t care less how it’s portrayed.” He paused a moment, then added, “Maybe that’s the wrong term. I do care.”
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