Longtime Stada CEO's exit forced by illness amid activist turmoil

Hartmut Retzlaff
Hartmut Retzlaff, courtesy of Stada

Under-pressure Stada is seeing some change at the top--but not as a result of activists’ efforts.

Sunday, the German drugmaker announced that longtime skipper Hartmut Retzlaff would vacate the CEO’s chair on account of a “serious, long-term illness.” Exec board members Helmut Kraft and Matthias Wiedenfels will take up his duties, with Wiedenfels assuming the chief exec title.

Retzlaff, who served as CEO for 23 years, shaped the company, Stada Chairman Martin Abend said in a statement, noting that the helmsman’s departure “comes as a surprise and saddens us deeply.” But he’s confident Wiedenfels will stand for “continuity as well as the ability to give the company the continuously necessary new impulses,” he said.

What remains to be seen is whether those “new impulses” are enough to placate rebel investor Active Ownership Capital, which has been clamoring to swap out the company’s board members with its own candidates. After the two sides nearly reached a compromise last month--Active Ownership would replace three directors instead of the 5 it initially wanted--Stada said instead that it would be selecting new picks on its own.

What Active Ownership wants may not end up mattering, though, if rumors about a potential Stada sale are true. Late last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had been holding informal takeover talks with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, discussing a buyout that could value Stada at about €3.7 billion ($4.1 billion).

- read Stada's release

Special Report: Top 20 generics companies by 2014 revenue - Stada Arzneimittel

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