Report claims Bayer is already hunting for a new CEO

by Stephen Riddle

Bayer chief executive Werner Baumann has been under fire from investors since he spearheaded the acquisition of agrochemical company Monsanto for $$63 billion, exposing the group to multibillion-dollar litigation. Now, it seems his time at the top may be coming to an end.

That’s according to a Bloomberg report, which claims Bayer has started the search for a successor well ahead of the end of Baumann’s current contract in April 2024.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the news wire says Bayer chair Norbert Winkeljohann is hoping to find a new candidate to present to shareholders at the groups next annual general meeting in April 2023, reportedly looking both within and outside the group. Bayer has declined to comment on the rumours.

Baumann has been at the helm of Bayer since May 2016, when he took over from Marijn Dekkers, and has spent his entire career at Bayer, rising through the ranks of the company.

Investor sentiment against him is largely linked to the Monsanto deal, which has reportedly led to the company setting aside $16 billion to settle claims that its Roundup weedkiller is linked to cancer.

Baumann pushed through the Monsanto deal despite resistance from some Bayer shareholders, who were concerned it was buying a struggling business and could be diverted from its higher-margin pharma focus.

The CEO survived a no-confidence vote called by shareholders in 2019, and while a second attempt to force a change in senior management by investors Temasek and Alatus Capital was rejected earlier this year, there were protests against the company’s compensation plan at this year’s AGM, notes Bloomberg.

Business as usual?

Despite the rumours of an early departure, it remains possible that Bayer’s succession is taking place in accordance with its usual smooth, forward-looking processes.

It’s worth recalling that Dekkers first announced his intention to step down in 2014, with Baumann elevated to the role of chef strategy and portfolio officer shortly afterwards to prepare him to take on the top job two years later.

Regardless of a possible early departure, it seems unlikely that Baumann will stay beyond the expiry of his current contract, and there is already speculation about that a change in leadership could mean for the company.

There have long been calls for Bayer to follow the lead of other big pharma companies that have traditionally had a diversified business model – such as Novartis and GSK – and separate out its current pharma, agrochemical and consumer health units.

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