--ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer stepped down after more than five years at the helm

--Board Chairman Peter Vosen will serve as interim CEO

--The Swiss engineering company won't change the new strategy it unveiled in December

--ABB released its 1Q earnings early and net profit fell 6%, while revenue and orders rose

 

By Brian Blackstone

 

ZURICH--ABB Ltd. (ABBN.EB) Chief Executive Ulrich Spiesshofer unexpectedly stepped down on Wednesday, ending a more than five-year run that saw the Swiss engineering giant gear its focus toward robotics and digital technologies but struggle with a weak share price.

The decision, which was made by ABB's board of directors Tuesday evening, came four months after the company unveiled in December a new strategy focusing on four business segments: electrification, automation, robotics and motion.

It also sold its power grids unit to Hitachi Ltd. (6501.TO) in December for $6.4 billion. Activist investors had previously pressed ABB to spin off the unit.

ABB's board chairman Peter Voser will serve as interim CEO until a replacement is found. ABB shares were up more than 5% at 0800 GMT.

"We support the strategic direction of ABB, and have full confidence in Peter Voser and the management team to continue implementing the transformation of ABB," said Lars Forberg, co-founder of Cevian Capital, one of the company's key shareholders.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Spiesshofer, 55, said he is handing over a "trimmed ABB ship that is on a clear course and gaining speed" and that he will take time before deciding on his next professional step.

In a conference call Wednesday, Mr. Voser described the decision to part ways with Mr. Spiesshofer as mutual and that it came following deliberations over who should guide the company through its next phase. Mr. Voser said the company won't change the strategy that it unveiled in December.

ABB also released first-quarter earnings ahead of schedule on Wednesday in order to quell any speculation in markets that the departure of Mr. Spiesshofer might have been linked to a bad first quarter.

Net profit for the period fell 6% to $535 million. ABB said revenue for the period came to $6.85 billion compared with $6.44 billion the prior year.

Orders for the first quarter rose 3% on a comparable basis to $7.61 billion, the company said.

The figures were broadly in line with expectations, said analysts at Vontobel Research.

 

Anthony Shevlin contributed to this article.

 

Write to Brian Blackstone at brian.blackstone@wsj.com.

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 17, 2019 05:20 ET (09:20 GMT)

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