Bayer investor Deka takes a stand against CEO in annual vote

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 4:35 AM

By Patricia Weiss and Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Bayer shareholder Deka Investment said on Friday it would not join other large investors in supporting the healthcare and agriculture group’s management at its annual general meeting.

Two other larger German mutual fund management houses, DWS and Union Investment, have said they would vote in favour of approving the management board’s action.

Bayer CEO Bill Anderson will face questions at the AGM over his decision in March to suspend for up to three years any preparations to break apart the German maker of pharmaceuticals, crop protection products and consumer health remedies.

Andersen, who became CEO in June 2023, has had a tumultuous start with a continued wave of U.S. litigation about an alleged cancer-causing effect of weedkiller glyphosate and a major setback in drug development late last year.

“We don’t regard Mr Anderson’s start as successful. We would have wished for more of a focus on aspects that are relevant for the share price,” Deka’s head of sustainability and corporate governance Ingo Speich said in a speech made available to Reuters ahead of the AGM.

The vote on ratifying the executive board’s business conduct, which prominently wraps up every German AGM, is largely symbolic because it has no bearing on management’s liability or tenure. But it is treated as a key gauge of investor sentiment.

Anderson said in a statement that he would seek to boost drug development, while also tackling litigation, debt and excessive corporate bureaucracy.

“The soul of this company is alive and well,” he said, adding that he would work hard to address shareholders’ frustration over the falling share price.

Harris Associates, another major Bayer shareholder, has told Reuters it strongly supports Anderson, including his decision to suspend work on breaking up the group.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger, Editing by Friederike Heine and Alexander Smith)