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Bjorn Rosengren Emerges as Front-Runner for Top Job at ABB

Rosengren would be taking over at ABB from Chairman Peter Voser, who has been acting as interim CEO since Ulrich Spiesshofer surprised analysts in April by abruptly stepping down

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Sandvik AB Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Rosengren
Sandvik AB Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Rosengren

Sandvik AB Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Rosengren has emerged as the front-runner for the top job at Swiss engineering giant ABB Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter.

An announcement could be made in the coming weeks, though ABB has yet to make a final decision, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private. ABB and Sandvik declined to comment. ABB shares rose as much as 2.7%, while Sandvik fell as much as 1.1% in early trading on Tuesday.

Rosengren, 60, a seasoned Swedish industrial executive, would be taking over at ABB from Chairman Peter Voser, who has been acting as interim CEO since Ulrich Spiesshofer surprised analysts in April by abruptly stepping down. Spiesshofer was under pressure from major investors, and his nearly six-year stint at the helm of ABB was marked by meager stock returns and a public row with an activist shareholder, Cevian Capital.

Voser, also 60, said on a conference call last week that ABB’s CEO search was going “better than planned.”

ABB is undergoing an overhaul, selling the bulk of its power grid division to Hitachi Ltd. for about $6.4 billion and leaving the company more concentrated on robotics and automation. Spiesshofer had long resisted the move, which was pushed by Cevian, and he eventually gave in.

Rosengren spent his formative years at Atlas Copco AB, where he was steeped in a management culture of decentralization and asset-light production that has been emulated at other Nordic companies. The style has been a key component of the turnaround he has accomplished at Sandvik since taking over the CEO role in November 2015.

At ABB, he would face a company that is emerging from a period of turmoil. Just before the former CEO’s exit, shareholder Artisan Partners added to the pressure by calling for a further breakup of the company through the separation of its electrification business. The proposal was later endorsed by Cevian co-founder Lars Forberg, who sits on ABB’s board.

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