Metro shareholders in talks over joint proposal for new chair: sources

FILE PHOTO: Shopping carts of Germany’s biggest retailer Metro AG are lined up at a Metro cash and carry market in the western German city of Sankt Augustin near Bonn May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

November 25, 2020

By Matthias Inverardi and Arno Schuetze

DUESSELDORF/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Leading shareholders of German retail group Metro are in talks on a joint proposal for a future chairman in a sign that they are working to put a long-lasting spat behind them, three people close to the matter said.

Metro shares rose by up to 4% on the news.

Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky secured more than 40% of Metro’s voting rights after an unsolicited voluntary offer of his vehicle EPGC expired last week. He has been at loggerheads with the Beisheim and Meridian foundations, which own a joint 23%.

Kretinsky failed in several attempts to buy the stakes of the foundations, which said his offer price was two low. Metro’s management has also opposed Kretinsky’s offers.

Beisheim and Meridian in September pooled their voting rights in 2019 and have said they could increase their stakes to bolster their blocking minority.

Kretinsky and the foundations have begun talks on a joint strategy for Metro, joint candidates for a total of three supervisory board members including the chairman role, which comes up for replacement at the next shareholder meeting, as well as on a new Chief Executive.

The foundations have realised that focusing on management and strategy is key and that that are hoping to find common ground with Kretinsky, who has become the controlling shareholder, the people said.

Current CEO Olaf Koch is stepping down at the end of the year with CFO Christian Baier and COO Rafael Gasset to run the company as co-CEOs on an interim basis as of January 2021.

Metro has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as restaurants and hotels are a major customer group. Its shareholders are pressing for a new strategy, including a new digital strategy and a focus on certain customer groups.

Metro has been selling assets in recent years to focus on its European cash-and-carry business supplying hotels, restaurants and independent traders, but it is battling sluggish growth in its home market Germany.

Kretinsky and the foundations declined to comment.

(Reporting by Arno Schuetze and Matthias Inverardi; editing by Thomas Seythal and Barbara Lewis)

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