Sunday, June 27, 2010

Corus CEO Adams to step down in October

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London June 28, 2010

Company names Karl-Ulrich Köhler as his successor.

Tata Steel Europe’s high profile and controversial MD and CEO, Kirby Adams, will step down from his position from October 1, handing over the reins to Chief Operating Officer Karl-Ulrich Köhler, who came on board in February 2010.

A press statement issued by Corus (Tata Steel Europe) said, “Adams has decided to step down from his executive roles and return to Australia, having successfully initiated a restructuring of the company and restored profitability. He will remain available to Tata Steel in an advisory capacity.”

The company in its statement, however, has not said why the 54-year-old MD and CEO has quit, when the fate of the Teesside Cast Products (TCP) plant is not clear. According to unconfirmed reports so far, Corus is in talks with Thai steel maker SSI for a possible sale of TCP. A Corus spokesperson said Adams’ exit was due to “personal reasons” and he was leaving a profitable company, which was loss-making when he took over the reins.

TCP was mothballed in February this year and its impending closure (if it does not find a buyer) would result in a job loss of over 1,700 at its north east plant. Tata Group has in the past come under severe criticism by unions and local political leaders for not conducting the negotiations with buyers in a more transparent manner. Neither Tata Steel nor Corus have officially confirmed any negotiations with Thai steel maker SSI.

Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Steel, said: “In his time as chief executive of Tata Steel Europe, Kirby has effected a major turnaround of the business and he leaves the company very well placed for the future. We thank him for his contribution and look forward to making further progress under Karl’s leadership.”

In January this year, Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover, too, had announced the resignation of 49-year-old CEO David Smith. As in the case of Adams, neither was Smith's sudden departure explained clearly by the Tata Group.

Adams, who was picked by Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata to head the steel maker’s European operations in 2008, is not new to controversy. Earlier this year, he skipped a meeting with the parliamentary committee in the UK set up to look into the mothballing of TCP to attend a board meeting of Tata Steel in India. Later, in an interview to Sunday Times newspaper, Adams had said he had to “choose between the committee and a board meeting”, making his position clear that his first loyalty was to his employer. Sources in the steel industry later clarified that right through the investigation by the government committee, Adams was never invited to the hearing and a notice seeking his attendance was issued only towards the end and with just a day's time to confirm his participation. He later answered the questions raised by the committee in writing.

Prior to joining Tata Steel Europe in February 2009, he was with BlueScope Steel and was the founding managing director of BHP Steel in Australia. With an experience of over three decades in the steel business, Adams started his career in Armco Inc as the head of strategy in 1979. Adams hold citizenship in Australia and the US.

Adams' successor Köhler's experience in the steel business, too, spans three decades. Prior to joining Tata Steel Europe, Köhler worked in companies that today comprise ThyssenKrupp Steel, where he was most recently chairman of the executive board and a member of the executive board of the parent company, ThyssenKrupp AG. Until October 2009, he was the president of Eurofer, the European steelmaking federation. Köhler is already a board member of Tata Steel Europe and he would join the board of the parent company, Tata Steel Ltd, later this year, a company statement said.

Köhler said: “We are becoming a much more internationally competitive business and by living the ‘Customer First’ philosophy, we are able to offer more innovative and differentiated products and services. I believe that thanks to these changes, the company has an exciting future.”

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