Munich If it were his own company, he might have acted differently. That was what Joe Kaeser wrote in his long statement on the Adani project. He has a lot of empathy for environmental issues. However, as Siemens CEO, he had to balance the interests of the various stakeholders. And it is a top priority to keep promises to customers.
In the discussion about Adani, the Siemens boss is now under a lot of pressure. The topic also causes a lot of unrest within the group. "Anyone who believes that the topic is over after two weeks is wrong," predicts an insider. It is possible that there are also personal consequences. This probably affects lower levels, the board was only involved in the topic late.
The power structure at Siemens is currently on the move anyway. Kaeser's contract expires regularly in one year. A further extension was considered unlikely in the supervisory board circles even before the excitement about Adani. In the summer, the supervisory board intends to decide on the successor based on previous plans.
But the topic could already gain momentum. "The current discussion encourages us to demand clarity in the succession plan as soon as possible," said Vera Diehl, portfolio manager at Union Investment, the Handelsblatt. Siemens now needs "clear conditions at the top so that the company can concentrate on business again instead of getting bogged down in management discussions".
However, the search for those responsible for the Adani debacle is currently underway. In industry circles, it is clear that those responsible for operations in Australia underestimated the explosiveness of the small order of EUR 18 million for signaling technology for Siemens, or reported it too late to the corporate headquarters. It was said in industry circles that the order was absolutely essential.
Some now also point out that Group Vice President Roland Busch heads a “Sustainability Board”, in which the assignment was said to have been a brief topic. However, the committee has so far not been responsible for the specific examination of orders, but rather generally for sustainability issues.
Bad mood at the top
Nevertheless, there was speculation that Kaeser could try to shift the responsibility to his vice bush. This is rejected in industrial circles. The mood in the management team is not particularly good. “The Adani topic doesn't really help.” Kaeser and Busch, however, worked together professionally.
In December, when the world was still in order at Siemens, Busch and Kaeser came together to the Siemens employees at a townhall meeting. Kaeser said that he wanted to speak straight away about the “elephant in the room”, that is, about the subject that interests everyone, but which nobody dares to speak openly: the management of the company.
The Siemens boss emphasized that he himself proposed Busch as deputy. Busch has his full support. Anyone who thinks that they are not on the same wavelength is "totally wrong".
Quite a few in the group suspected Kaeser that it was difficult to replace it. But it has been emerging for a few weeks that the change should take place in an orderly fashion – unless something dramatic intervenes.
According to information from the Handelsblatt from supervisory board circles, it is firmly planned that Busch will actually become chairman of the board after being promoted to deputy. Many in the company long for an engineer at the top.
A supervisory board says that Kaeser also did a lot of things right. For example, the idea of giving businesses more independence and agility is still right. However, some are now somewhat tired of the capers that Kaeser sometimes beats. So many in the company saw it critically that Kaeser tweeted in November: "When a smoking pot in the United States speaks of Peterchen's moon trip, he is an amazed visionary." He could only mean Tesla boss Elon Musk – an important Siemens -Customer. The Siemens boss had already caused a stir with Twitter tweets and clear statements on political topics.
There is also a lot of internal discussion about Kaeser's offer to climate activist Luisa Neubauer to take on a supervisory post at Siemens Energy. "That was a typical cheese," says a Siemens man. The idea of talking to the critics was right.
But the offer to go to the supervisory board was not well prepared and problematic when he announced two days later that the task would be carried out. The CEO wanted to please everyone again – and now sits between all the chairs.
The Neubauer initiative also met with understanding among investors. The supervisory board offer shows that Siemens is serious about its climate targets, DWS fund manager Marcus Poppe told Handelsblatt. "To dismiss it as a purely tactical maneuver would be wrong."