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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 13:59 GMT
Ex-ABB boss fends off pensions criticism
Marcus Wallenberg and Percy Barnevik
Marcus Wallenberg and Barnevik during happier times
Percy Barnevik, the Swedish industrialist and ex-boss of engineering giant ABB, has defended his 100m euros ($87.1m, 61m) pension package.

Speaking to Sweden's Dagens Nyheter newspaper, he described his pay arrangements with the Swiss-Swedish group as "an American payment system in a European environment".

Joergen Centermann, ABB chief executive
ABB's new boss Joergen Centermann wants some of Mr Barnevik's pay package back
Swedish shareholder activists had branded the benefits package "obscene", arguing it had "damaged the reputation and credibility of the whole Swedish business community".

A week ago, ABB said it was investigating whether it had granted its former chairman Percy Barnevik and ex-chief executive Goran Lindahl too much in pension and other benefits.

ABB's vice chairman, Robert Jeker, said Mr Barnevik had informed the board "selectively and misleadingly" about his pay package.

Last November Mr Barnevik made a surprise exit from ABB, following a steady decline of the firm's share price.

Pressure is piling up

Since ABB's allegations against Mr Barnevik, his position in the corporate world has come under increasing pressure.

Jacob Wallenberg, Investor
Jacob Wallenberg has distanced himself from Barnevik
Jacob Wallenberg, a director of ABB, influential member of the powerful Wallenberg family of Swedish industrialists and once one of Mr Barnevik's key backers, has described the payout as "unreasonable" and demanded it should be partly repaid.

Mr Barnevik was also eased from his post as chairman of Investor, the industrial holding company of the Wallenberg family - just one day after ABB demanded the pensions pay-back.

And now US car giant General Motors is reportedly reviewing Mr Barnevik's position on its own board.

One of his responsibilities with GM is to look after the firm's corporate governance guidelines.

Mr Lindahl is feeling the heat as well. He is a board member of telecoms giant Ericsson, but on Monday the company said Mr Lindahl had declined re-election to its board of directors.

Leading ABB to success

Mr Barnevik led ABB since its 1988 formation through a merger of Swedish firm Asea and Switzerland's Brown Boveri. He had been in charge of Asea for eight years before that.

The deal is still seen as a textbook study of how to manage successfully the cross-border merger of two companies with different cultures and values.

ABB's share price peaked in February 2000 at 54.50 Swiss Francs, but has plummeted since to trade now at just under 13 Francs.

The firm suffered a sharp loss of $691m during 2001, and said it would sack 12,000 workers to cut costs.

Also weighing on the company's share price are anticipated asbestos claims against one of its US subsidiaries.

Last month, ABB almost doubled the amount of money it is setting aside against liabilities relating to asbestos, taking its asbestos provisions to about $940m.

Some analysts say this is not enough; the most pessimistic estimate suggests that a whopping $3bn may be needed.

Investor restructures

Swedish holding company Investor, meanwhile, has announced a restructuring that will allow it to speculate on trading in the shares of companies the firm holds a stake in.

Investor will create a new asset management company that operates outside the group, without the strict limits set for Investor's existing securities trading operation.

The new unit will be run by Sven Nyman, executive vice president of Investor.

Investor's chief executive Marcus Wallenberg said his firm would "allocate a substantial amount of capital for management by this company".

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Business
Barnevik leaves top job
23 Nov 01 | Business
ABB boss in surprise resignation
13 Feb 02 | Business
ABB launches pension probe
30 Jan 02 | Business
ABB doubles asbestos liabilities
16 Jan 02 | Business
ABB asbestos claims 'set to soar'
14 May 01 | Business
Financier rocks family firms
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