Hapag-Lloyd Taps Maersk Exec to Succeed Behrendt as CEO

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September 24, 2013

Shanghai Express file photo. Image: Hapag Lloyd

By Nicholas Brautlecht

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) — Hapag-Lloyd AG, Germany’s biggest container shipping line, chose the head of A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S’s freight-forwarding arm to succeed Chief Executive Officer Michael Behrendt next year as the company attempts to steer its way out of an industry crisis.

Rolf Habben-Jansen, 47, will join the executive board from April 1 before taking the helm in July, Hamburg-based Hapag- Lloyd said in a statement. Behrendt will step down as planned after more than 12 years at the company.

“Habben-Jansen is a manager who will successfully confront the major challenges in international liner shipping,” Behrendt said in the statement.

The shipping industry is grappling with an overcapacity of vessels and low freight rates. Hapag-Lloyd, Europe’s fourth- largest shipping line, posted a profit of 20.9 million euros ($28 million) in the second quarter, compared with a 7.3 million-euro loss a year earlier, helped by reduced costs and fuel prices.

HSH Nordbank AG, the world’s biggest shipping lender, said on August 30 it doesn’t see a recovery before 2015.

Habben-Jansen also faces questions about a possible initial public offering of the company, as major shareholders including TUI AG seek an exit route. Europe’s largest tour operator, which holds 22 percent of Hapag-Lloyd, wants to divest its stake through an IPO or sale once industry conditions improve, Friedrich Joussen, TUI’s CEO, said on Aug. 8.

IPO Conditions

“At first sight Hapag-Lloyd seems to have hired Mr Habben- Jansen because he is an expert of the freight industry and not because he is familiar with capital markets or listed companies,” said Jochen Rothenbacher, an analyst at Equinet Bank AG in Frankfurt. “So to say he was hired to steer the company to an IPO is jumping to conclusions.”

Habben-Jansen worked at Deutsche Post’s DHL unit and Royal Nedlloyd Group before becoming CEO of The-Hague-based Damco NV in 2009.

Damco is also one of Hapag-Lloyd’s clients, as freight forwarders typically work with all major container carriers to manage door-to-door transport.

Damco ranks number six in the list of the world’s biggest sea-freight forwarders, according to data compiled by industry leader Kuehne & Nagel International AG.

Hapag-Lloyd’s biggest stakeholder is the city-state of Hamburg. It holds 37 percent of the shares through the Albert Ballin consortium, which also includes Hamburg-born billionaire investor Klaus-Michael Kuehne.

Hamburg Sued

Kuehne, who owns a 28.2 percent holding in Hapag-Lloyd, in June demanded a debate about strategy at the shipping company after a merger with local peer Hamburg Sued failed. Oetker Group, the family-owned German holding company that owns Hamburg Sued, asked for merger talks to be halted in March after the parties were unable to agree on terms.

Hapag-Lloyd also announced today that executive board member Ulrich Kranich, 63, who is responsible for the global shipping business, will leave the company on June 30 next year. He will be succeeded by Anthony Firmin, who has been at the company for 18 years and currently runs yield management.

Behrendt, who was appointed to the executive board in 1999 and has been CEO since 2002, extended his contract by a year at the request of shareholders to allow for more time to find a successor. Hamburg, which as the largest shareholder in Hapag- Lloyd has the right to nominate managers for the supervisory board, last year said that Behrendt was ready to succeed former Lufthansa AG CEO Juergen Weber as head of the board in the middle of 2015.

“Nothing has changed in that respect,” Daniel Stricker, spokesman for the Hamburg finance ministry, said today.

Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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