Osram boots out CEO Berlien

Dec. 1, 2020
He’s leaving at the end of February, as new owner ams strengthens its grip. Chairman Bauer also going. The company’s future in digital lighting remains uncertain, as photonics focus strengthens.

The ams era has ratcheted into high gear at Osram, as the Austrian sensor maker is bouncing CEO Olaf Berlien out as boss of the iconic German lighting company, effective at the end of February.

Ams, which acquired Osram in July, will install its current chief financial officer Ingo Bank as Osram CEO. Bank is the former CFO of Osram who left for ams in May, and is now returning as the top man. Ams is also replacing Osram supervisory board chairman Peter Bauer with Thomas Stockmeier, who is ams’ chief operating officer. That change will happen later this month.

The ousters come about three weeks after Osram’s freshly ams-flavored supervisory board voted out another top Osram executive, chief technology officer Stefan Kampmann.

The departures of Kampmann and now Berlien and Bauer come less than a month after ams finally gained “domination” approval in its new ownership of Osram, although domination   which is an aspect of German business law still faces the technicality of a “registration” process in Germany.

When ams closed its long and winding Osram takeover back in July, it did so on a rudimentary level that did not give it as much power as domination does. In a related move that further strengthened ams’ grip, ams in early November populated Osram’s supervisory board with three of its own personnel including Stockmeier, who will become chairman in “mid-December” according to an Osram press release.

Osram announced Berlien’s and Bauer’s exits this afternoon via the press release and via a statement from the investor relations department.

“The Supervisory Board of Osram Licht AG resolved at today’s meeting to re-organize the top management level,” said Osram head of investor relations Julia Klostermann. “The Supervisory Board will initiate negotiations with the chairman of the Management Board, Dr. Olaf Berlien, on a mutual early termination of his assignment by end of February 2021. Moreover, Peter Bauer will resign as chairman and member of the Supervisory Board in mid-December. Supervisory Board member Dr. Thomas Stockmeier, who is also a member of Management Board at ams AG, shall assume the board’s chair.”

Klostermann said that the domination agreement “is expected to become effective within the next weeks.”

Berlien’s farewell will come a little over six years after he took the helm at Osram in January 2015.

During that time, he recast the company as a “high-tech” outfit, emphasizing among other things the metamorphosis of lighting into a smart, Internet-connected infrastructure. While selling off the LEDvance bulbs operation and the Siteco luminaires group, Berlien was intent on embedding other lights and luminaires with chips and sensors, and connecting them with software and firmware in both wired and wireless schemes. The payoff was to have come via enormous benefits to end users who could do everything from remotely controlling their lights to using the lighting network to gather data and gain insights into operations of their businesses and premises.

But Osram and the lighting industry have for some time now experienced many stops and restarts in their IoT lighting endeavors. Indeed, the onetime flagship of Osram’s IoT lighting initiative, Lightelligence, has all but faded away.

In early 2019, Berlien made sure to add the word “photonics” to his high-tech talk, recognizing the growing chip-level potential to sell LEDs and laser components into uses beyond illumination, such as health, virtual reality, navigation, biometric security, facial recognition, and many others. Such potential had led Osram in November 2017 to open a €370 million LED production facility in Kulim, Malaysia.

Slowdowns in Osram’s all-important automobile market have hurt the company in recent years, but a growing focus on optics and photonics, at the possible expense of digital illumination, helped attract interest from ams, a photonics and sensor specialist that is prevalent in mobile phones among other things. It has recently been stepping up work in chips aimed at detecting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Ams sees Osram as a good fit in the photonics area.

But ams CEO Alexander Everke has described the Osram division that houses IoT as “not strategic to us.” The division also includes Osram’s horticultural lighting business. Ams has not yet said for certain that it will sell off all or part of the group, which is called Digital, and which more than any other part of Osram represents its heritage in general lighting. Osram started life in 1919 selling filament bulbs based on osmium and tungsten and takes its name from combing the two words using the German “wolfram” for tungsten. It has long been regarded as the world’s number-two lighting company after Signify — formerly Philips. It was a subsidiary of German engineering conglomerate Siemens for several decades, until spinning out in 2013.

Berlien’s future at ams-owned Osram has been a subject of speculation by LEDs Magazine during the saga of the acquisition. He has not always backed the takeover. At one point, in September 2019, he was opposed to it, but he switched to supporting it at as the ams offer changed.

He repeatedly expressed frustration earlier this year that the lack of ams domination was preventing a smooth integration of the company. That integration will now go ahead without him after February.

Prior to joining Osram, Berlien was CEO at German construction and engineering company M+W Group. He also has an executive background at steel maker thyssenkrupp, optics maker Zeiss (formerly Carl Zeiss), and IBM.

Meanwhile, in more moves that will give ams firmer control of Osram, Klostermann noted that the head of ams’ optical sensors division Ulrich Hüwels will join the Osram supervisory board. He will replace Christine Bortenlänger, who said she will withdraw effective at the next Osram annual general meeting, scheduled for Feb. 23. Bortenlänger is CEO of Deutsches Aktieninstitut, a lobbying group for German business.

Her departure, coupled with Bauer’s, opens two places on the supervisory board — one to be filled by ams’ Hüwels and the other by Christin Eisenschmid, who is managing director of Intel Germany and Austria.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.