In a lengthy article Handelsblatt listed the company’s woes, citing “years of internal power struggles” and stating that the world’s largest manufacturer of printing presses has been “hurrying from renovation to renovation for years without success”.
The piece also highlighted the negative affect on Heidelberg’s balance sheet of its subscription sales model, whereby “the risk of success shifts from the customer to the manufacturer”, with efforts to find a financial partner to take on the financing commitment proving unsuccessful so far.
The article also stated that this week's surprise departure of board member Dr Ulrich Hermann means that it is “now clear that the subscription will be put on hold for now”.
It speculated that major Heidelberg shareholder Masterwork, which has an 8.5% stake in the business, could benefit from the current situation by either buying parts of Heidelberg or increasing its stake.
Chinese manufacturer Masterwork became the group’s largest shareholder last year, putting it just ahead of former Gallus owner Ferdinand Rüesch, who is also mentioned by Handelsblatt. Rüesch has lost millions of euros on paper due to the decline in Heidelberg’s share price since 2014 when he sold the remainder of his stake in Gallus to Heidelberg.
However, Heidelberg refuted the claims made in the Handelsblatt article.
A spokesman told Printweek: “Especially the start of the article is wrong and the report contains a number of inaccuracies.”
“We have a clear roadmap on how we will successfully navigate Heidelberg through the difficult phase of economic uncertainty,” he stated.
“In Dr Martin Sonnenschein, we have someone at the head of the Supervisory Board who, together with all his colleagues on the Supervisory Board and the Management Board, is pulling in the same direction with the aim of further increasing Heidelberg's profitability in order to give us the freedom we need for the transformation we have begun and for new markets.”
He also rebuffed Handelsblatt’s claims that the much-vaunted subs model would be put on hold: “As part of our digital transformation, we will further develop our new subscription model, which has gotten off to a good start, together with strong financing partners.”
The spokesman said new products for its core market would help steady the ship.
“With the recently announced Speedmaster 2020 generation, which we will be presenting at Drupa, we are launching an innovation offensive to expand our technological leadership in what is our most important market segment.
“Interest in our digitalised and autonomous ‘Smart Print Shop’ of the future is high and forms the basis for our profitable future.”
Printweek can also reveal that Heidelberg’s new Executive Committee, which will be responsible for a number of functions including sales, marketing and service, will be made up of seven people.
The first to be named is Ludwig Allgoewer who is heading up global sales and marketing “with immediate effect”. He joined Heidelberg two years ago as president of Heidelberg Brazil. Prior to that he was head of print finishing at Steinemann.
Allgoewer was also previously an associate partner at management consultancy iq! which formed a joint venture with Heidelberg for the development of the Heidelberg Digital Unit 17 months ago.
Heidelberg said that Robert Franz, who was appointed head of sales operations in September 2018, is now heading up Heidelberg’s sales transformation programme.