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Daimler Traders are pushing for an unbiased chairman when Zetsche bows

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Annual General Meeting of Daimler AG in Berlin

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – investors welcomed former investors Daimler (DE 🙂 The decision announced at the weekend by managing director Dieter Zetsche to renounce his role as chairman of the German automobile manufacturer and to start a race to find an independent chairman of the company's supervisory board.

The 67-year-old Zetsche, former head of the Mercedes-Benz brand, was supposed to take over the chairmanship of the Stuttgart company's administrative board after a two-year period.

Surprisingly, he announced in an interview in the Sunday newspaper of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that he would give up his position and thereby break a decades-long practice of German companies of promoting board members to directors.

Manfred Bischoff, the current chairman of Daimler, now has to find a new candidate for his successor before he retires on March 31, 2021.

"This enables Daimler to reorient itself under new management, a step that is necessary from our point of view," Michael Muders, fund manager at Union Investment in Germany, told Reuters.

Ingo Speich, Head of Sustainability and Corporate Governance at Deka Investment, said that in view of the unresolved questions about Daimler's involvement in a diesel emissions scandal, "the new chairman should be free of conflicts of interest".

Daimler agreed to pay $ 2.2 billion to resolve a US government diesel emissions investigation and claims of 250,000 US vehicle owners earlier this month.

Zetsche's rejection comes after some investors, including Harris Associates, who owns a 5% stake, spoke out against Zetsche's appointment to the board of directors. Harris Associates was not immediately available for comment.

Joe Kaeser, the outgoing managing director of the German engineering giant Siemens (DE :), a member of the Daimler supervisory board, could act as a candidate for the chair, sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Siemens' ability to reassure international shareholders when its rival General Electric (NYSE 🙂 has been criticized for its conglomerate structure and underperformance, and Kaeser's openness to Chinese investors makes it a suitable candidate.

The Chinese investors Geely (GEELY.UL) and BAIC (HK 🙂 control almost 20% of Daimler through direct shares and stock options.

Siemens declined to comment. Daimler also declined to comment on the successor.

In his newspaper interview, Zetsche said that while Daimler's top investors had supported him as Bischoff's successor, resistance from other shareholders was likely.

"I don't need the fact that after 40 years of work I am seen by some not as an asset but as a burden," Zetsche is quoted as saying.

Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the Center for Automotive Research, complained about Zetsche's final exit from the car manufacturer.

"It's a shame," said Dudenhoeffer, saying that Zetsche led the reinvention of Mercedes-Benz, attracted younger buyers and made it the best-selling luxury car brand. "Where would Daimler be without Zetsche? Nowhere," said Dudenhoeffer.

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