Bayer's incoming CEO Bill Anderson won't rule out consumer, agriculture spinoffs: report

For certain Bayer investors, the entry of a new CEO this summer could mean another shot at breaking up the German conglomerate. And for now, Roche veteran Bill Anderson, poised to take the throne from outgoing chief Werner Baumann in June, is keeping an “open mind.”

Speaking to reporters at Bayer’s German headquarters in Leverkusen Tuesday, Anderson said he’ll spend the next two months “listening,” Reuters reports. He said it would be an “overgeneralization” to call the push for a breakup unanimous. Some investors want a split, while others crave better execution, Anderson said, according to the news service.

“That’s why I said I am going to have an open mind,” Anderson added, noting that he’d be “short-changing people and the legacy of this company” by immediately jockeying for structural change.

Bayer tapped Anderson—most recently Roche’s pharmaceutical chief—to head up its business in February, following Baumann’s seven-year run at the helm. Baumann was previously slated to serve as CEO through April 2024, but Bayer lined up a replacement early this year in the wake of fresh investor activism calling for a regime change.

After Bayer's recent run-ins with Bluebell Capital Partners and Union Investment portfolio manager Markus Manns, Inclusive Capital Partners’ Jeffrey Ubben in February joined the chorus of shareholders agitating for change at the company.

Specifically, Ubben called on other investors to press Bayer’s chairman, Norbert Winkeljohann, to swiftly replace Baumann as CEO. Much of the shareholder discontent centers on Bayer’s ill-fated, $63 billion merger with Monsanto, which has forced Bayer to grapple with a mess of litigation over the Roundup weedkiller.

Aside from the CEO pivot, some investors have been angling for Bayer to sever its consumer health or crop science divisions for years.

Back in January, Union Investment’s Manns chided Bayer chairman Winkeljohann for not initiating enough dialogue with investors, noting in an interview with Germany’s WirtschaftsWoche that “[i]t would definitely have been a matter for the supervisory board to help initiate a spin-off of consumer health.”

Earlier that same month, Bluebell Capital Partners reportedly built a stake in Bayer in hopes of forcing a sale of the group’s consumer health unit, later followed by a break-up of the conglomerate’s pharmaceuticals and agriculture arms.

Still, incoming CEO Anderson was right when he said not all investors want change.

Shortly after news of Baumann’s replacement in February, German trade union IG Bergbau, Chemie, Energie (IGBCE) pushed back against the break-up proposal, which has become an increasingly common trend at big pharmaceutical companies like GSK and Johnson & Johnson.

“From the point of view of the employees, Bayer with its three pillars is perfectly positioned for the challenges of the future,” Francesco Grioli, who sits on the executive board of IGBCE and the supervisory board at Bayer, told the German newspaper Taz earlier this year.

While some experts contend Bayer might’ve relieved investor pressure by selecting a new CEO from within its ranks, the company's board unanimously backed Anderson following a selection process that kicked off in the middle of 2022. Earlier this year, Bayer’s Winkeljohann called Anderson the “ideal candidate” for Bayer’s top post.