RobecoSAM board split and resignations preceded CEO departure over Robeco alliance

Albert Gnägi, President of the board, resigned in January, along with a fellow director.

RI has discovered that Dr. Albert Gnägi, President of the board at RobecoSAM, the Swiss sustainable fund manager, and his fellow board director, Dr. Marcel Rohner, resigned in January over a serious strategic disagreement about the closer alliance between the company and its larger Dutch sister fund manager, Robeco, announced in May, which led to the subsequent departure of Aris Prepoudis, CEO of RobecoSAM.
The information sheds further light on the departure of Prepoudis, whose exit from RobecoSAM was announced with an ambiguous statement that both sides had “decided to part ways”. It suggests a much deeper schism at board and management levels about the Robeco-RobecoSAM rapprochement.
Gnägi, a vastly experienced company non-executive director (NED) in Switzerland with more than 30 years as a commercial attorney in Zurich, led the RobecoSAM board for more than 10 years. He started as Chairman of the Board of SAM back in 2007 around the time of the acquisition of SAM by Robeco, after which the Swiss company was re-branded as RobecoSAM. Rohner, another experienced Swiss company NED, was a member of the board with collective signing responsibility for two members. Three new directors have replaced them on the RobecoSAM board. The first is Kuno Kennel, who joined as Independent Chair. An experienced banker, currently President of The Bank Counsel at the Schwyzer Kantonalbank, Kennel previously served as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Barclays Capital Schweiz. The second is Karin van Baardwijk, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Management Board at Robeco, who joins the RobecoSAM board as Vice Chair. The third new board member at RobecoSAM is Gilbert Van Hassel, CEO of Robeco.In a statement, RobecoSAM said: “The two independent BoD members resigned because of a divergence in opinion within the BoD, where the majority of members favoured further strengthening the collaboration between Robeco and RobecoSAM, a step which has since taken place.”
Sources with close knowledge of the situation at RobecoSAM said both resignations followed discord about what they claimed was an effective power shift in RobecoSAM away from independence in Switzerland and towards strategy decisions being taken by Robeco in the Netherlands. It suggests that parent company ORIXCorp., the Japanese financial services group, has decided to consolidate the businesses as part of its own strategic plans.
ORIXCorp. bought the majority of Robeco in 2013, including RobecoSAM, from Rabobank, the Dutch banking group.
At the beginning of May, Robeco and RobecoSAM announced that ties between the two firms would be “further strengthened” via a “new management model”. Prepoudis left as a result of the strategy change. He had been in the top spot at RobecoSAM for just over a year and overseen new inflows into the business until the change of strategic direction. RI understands that Prepoudis has not yet taken on a position elsewhere.
At the time of his departure, Robeco CEO, Van Hassel, said: “We mutually agreed that under the new management model, a leaner ExCo at RobecoSAM is best for the firm.”
Following his exit, RobecoSAM said the company would be led by Co-CEOs, Marius Dorfmeister, currently Head of Global Clients and Marketing and a Member of the
ExCo – who was hired by Prepoudis – and by Daniel Wild, former Head of Sustainability Investing Research & Development and a Member of the ExCo also.
However, people close to RobecoSAM said there has been a clear move of power from Zurich to Rotterdam.
In an interview with RI last year, Prepoudis explained how he had strategic, budgetary and executive latitude to try and grow the business, which had been flat-lining in recent years.
His departure is understood to have resulted from this strategic power shift to Robeco.At the time of the Robeco/RobecoSAM announcement, the companies said: “After an excellent year in 2017 where RobecoSAM was entrusted with significant new client assets and a vast majority of its strategies outperformed their relevant benchmarks, RobecoSAM won a USD 1.4 billion thematic mandate in the first quarter of the current year. The time is now right to build further on these achievements.”
RI could not reach Gnägi, Rohner or Prepoudis for comment.
RobecoSAM manages some $17bn in assets under management, advice and/or license.