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LafargeHolcim chairman to step down

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Reitzle, who will be chairman of the new merged entity LafargeHolcim, attends a news conference in Zurich...Wolfgang Reitzle, who will be chairman of the new merged entity LafargeHolcim, attends a news conference in Zurich April 7, 2014. Switzerland's Holcim unveiled an all-share deal to buy France's Lafarge on Monday to create the world's biggest cement maker with combined sales of 32 billion euros ($44 billion). The partners billed the deal as a merger of equals under which Lafarge shareholders will receive one Holcim share for every Lafarge share held, with the combined group to be based in Switzerland and listed in Zurich and Paris. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION)©Reuters

Wolfgant Reitzle

LafargeHolcim on Monday announced that its chairman was stepping down in May, less than a year after the Swiss-French cement group was formed through a contentious €41bn merger.

Wolfgang Reitzle’s decision not to stand for re-election at May’s annual meeting is the latest upset for LafargeHolcim, which has seen its shares fall 48 per cent since last July, when the transaction was completed.

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LafargeHolcim’s results so far have disappointed amid weak economic conditions and overcapacity in its key markets.

Before the group announced Mr Reitzle’s departure late on Monday, shares in LafargeHolcim had fallen 7 per cent from last week’s close after news he would stand for election to become chairman of the supervisory board of Linde, the German industrial and medical gases company where he was previously chief executive.

Although a newcomer to the cement business, Mr Reitzle was closely involved in the protracted negotiations that led to Switzerland’s Holcim combining with Lafarge of France.

The talks were punctuated by
management culture clashes and regulatory hurdles.

Mr Reitzle was instrumental in saving the deal when it nearly collapsed in March last year.

Changes to the transaction meant Lafarge agreed that Bruno Lafont, its chief executive, would not lead the combined group but instead become co-chairman with Mr Reitzle. Eric Olsen, from Lafarge, was appointed the group’s chief executive.

LafargeHolcim said on Monday it regretted Mr Reitzle’s departure but offered no explanation beyond saying he wished “to pursue other business activities that will require his fullest attention”.

Mr Reitzle said in the same statement: “I am satisfied that LafargeHolcim is now fully on track with realising the benefits of the combined businesses.” The company’s shares closed down 8 per cent on Monday at SFr35.9.

Mr Reitzle is due to be replaced as LafargeHolcim chairman by Beat Hess, currently vice-chairman, who joined Holcim in 2010.

Mr Reitzle, 66, is among Germany’s best known businessmen, and some LafargeHolcim insiders suggested he was keen to return to Linde after two years of “gardening leave”.

He was credited with Linde’s turnround when he became chief executive in 2003 after stints at Ford and BMW. He is chairman of the supervisory board at Continental, the German tyremaker.

Mr Reitzle’s resignation comes after the Financial Times reported on Friday that a collateral call had resulted in Filaret Galchev, LafargeHolcim’s third largest shareholder, liquidating his stake in the company after its share price fall.

Additional reporting by Michael Stothard in Paris

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