MUNICH, GERMANY - Last week in Europe, executives at firms that make Krauss-Maffei, Netstal and Demag Ergotech equipment stuck to their new-technology script at pre-K 2001 news conferences - and downplayed the pending sale of their firms' parent, Mannesmann Plastics Machinery AG.
Meanwhile, MPM officials say a deal could be announced in late June or sometime in July, now that two investment groups are left as the finalists for the world's largest plastics machinery maker.
Leaders of the companies said their machinery operations are financially successful, so their operations will continue business-as-usual, no matter who ends up buying MPM from German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG.
Wilhelm Schroder, who heads the largest MPM member company, Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH, said KM will remain independent and free to set its own strategy under new owners.
``I believe if we have a new owner, this course will go on, because investors will not buy the company to run the company. They want to make money. The company will continue to be run by us. There's not going to be any changes to the customer,'' Schroder told trade press reporters at the KM news conference June 21 in Munich.
The six MPM companies - makers of KM, Netstal, Demag Ergotech, Van Dorn Demag, Berstorff and Billion brands - racked up 2000 sales of $1.2 billion and employ nearly 6,800 people around the world.
The pre-K show news conferences were held the week of June 18 in Germany and Switzerland. The week before, German press reports said that two investment groups, Investcorp and Apax Partners & Co. Ventures Ltd., are the finalists to buy Munich-based MPM. The story broke in the June 12 issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a Frankfurt, Germany, newspaper with national circulation. The paper quoted MPM Chairman Wolfgang Vogl identifying Apax and Investcorp.
Vogl now is declining to comment.
Schroder, questioned by trade reporters, said an initial public offering could be in MPM's future, several years down the road.
The hot topic of the sale broke through - however briefly - the more-typical questions about tie-bar spacing, injection speeds and the relative merits of electric injection presses that dominate machinery manufacturer news conferences.
The week of news conferences kicked off June 19 at Netstal's press conference in Nafels, Switzerland. Just a few days earlier, the Swiss daily Blick reported that Christoph Blocher, owner of Zurich-based nylon producer EMS-Chemie Holding AG, wants to buy Netstal from the company that ends up buying MPM. Netstal strongly denied the story.
Dieter Klug, Netstal's president and chief executive officer, declined to answer trade press questions about the story in Blick. ``It doesn't help anybody at the moment, if I would step into this speculation area,'' he said.
But earlier, in his address outlining Netstal's injection press business, Klug said Netstal's independence must be preserved.
``Professionalism. A strong capital base. An innovation-oriented and independent company culture. I underline these conditions particularly also in view of the pending change of ownership because, unless they are met, the long-term assured future is not conceivable,'' Klug said.
MPM has been through a tumultuous series of ownership changes in the last two years. Its original owner, Mannesmann AG, planned to spin off MPM and other engineering and automotive businesses in an IPO. But that fell apart when England's Vodaphone AirTouch plc launched a hostile takeover bid for Mannesmann. Tensions smoothed over after Mannesmann and Vodaphone eventually agreed to merge, but the takeover made it clear that German conglomerates are no longer insulated from the harsh Darwinism of global capitalism.
Following the merger, MPM and other Mannesmann units were courted by giant German industrial companies. Thyssen Krupp AG was outbid by Siemens and Robert Bosch GmbH. (Bosch later handed MPM to Siemens.)
Siemens promised it would leave MPM intact for three years - but then promptly turned around and announced in November of 2000 that it was putting MPM up for sale.
The high-finance turbulence seems far removed from the factory floors where workers build injection presses and extruders. And at the pre-K events, the machinery executives said their companies have not been hurt from the uncertainty over ownership. Indeed, the companies stressed technology news:
The first all-electric injection press from Netstal rolled out with an unveiling complete with fog, dancing lights and pounding music.
Krauss-Maffei debuted a nearly fully electric injection molding machine that uses just a small amount of hydraulic fluid to build up final clamp force. KM also revealed a machine that combines a twin-screw compounder with an injection press.
Demag Ergotech announced an expansion into higher-tonnage presses. The firm also showed a new El-Exis E press aimed at more-standard types of molding.
Helmar Franz, managing director of Demag Ergotech in Schwaig, Germany, said German executives and plant workers still are adjusting to the U.S.-style of sometimes rapid changes in ownership.
``In the states, such processes are happening every day. We in Germany are not used to it. We are learning a new system. We are in a new environment,'' he said.
Franz said customers ask him about the newspaper reports. ``But nobody is seriously concerned,'' he said.
``We have new products. We have a lot of things to do in our markets. We are busy with this. We are growing. We have our Chinese operation. We have our Indian operation. We have many things to do, and that is interesting for any owner, whoever is the owner.
``I mean, if you have a good profit and good prospects and good concepts, and worldwide development and growth, then you are interesting. If not, you are not interesting for anybody,'' Franz said.