Bayer chair turns page with proxy advisers after pinning down Werner Baumann's CEO successor: report

Shareholder sentiment may be shifting at Bayer after the company's board appeased activist investors with the installation of a new chief executive.

Bayer chairman Norbert Winkeljohann—who recently faced calls to swiftly replace outgoing CEO Werner Baumann—has ginned up support for his re-election from proxy advisers Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis, Reuters reports. The chairman’s term will be subject to a renewal vote at Bayer’s annual shareholder meeting slated for April 28.

At the same time, Winkeljohann continues to face pressure from German investment firms DWS and Union Investment, which took umbrage with the chairman’s myriad board commitments in March, according to the news service.

Apart from Bayer, Winkeljohann also serves as Deutsche Bank’s deputy chairman, plus he’s chairman of the unlisted wholesale trade groups Sievert and Bohnenkamp and a board member at steelmaker Georgsmarienhuette, according to Reuters.

Despite holding multiple corporate commitments, Winkeljohann appears to have won some shareholders over after he led the search for Bayer’s incoming CEO, Roche’s former pharmaceutical chief Bill Anderson.

Aside from the votes of confidence from ISS and Glass Lewis, Temasek, the sovereign wealth fund of Singapore and a major Bayer shareholder, said it would pitch in on Winkeljohann’s re-election, too, German weekly WirtschaftsWoche said in early April.

Back in February, Inclusive Capital Partners’ Jeffrey Ubben joined a chorus of shareholders pressing for the replacement of Bayer’s outgoing CEO Baumann, who’s taken flack over the years for his company’s underwhelming pipeline and an avalanche of lawsuits around the potential for Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller to cause cancer.

Another common refrain from investors centers on a desire to split up the German conglomerate along its consumer health or crop science divisions.

Bayer tapped Anderson to head up the company in early February. Anderson won the unanimous backing of Bayer's board after a selection process that kicked off in the middle of 2022, Bayer said earlier this year. At the time, Winkeljohann called Anderson the "ideal candidate" for Bayer's CEO post, citing Anderson's "outstanding track record" of pipeline buildouts and commercialization pivots. 

Incoming chief Anderson, set to officially don the CEO mantle in June, recently said he’s keeping an “open mind” around spinoff pressures.