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ABB Planning More Deals to Expand in Robotics, CEO Tells NZZ

Albertina Torsoli

(Bloomberg) -- ABB Ltd. will plow ahead with more acquisitions to expand in robotics and industrial automation even as the Swiss engineering giant carries out the sale of its power-grids unit to Hitachi Ltd., Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Spiesshofer said in an interview with Neue Zuercher Zeitung.

“We bought six companies in the last two years in robotics and will acquire more,” the newspaper cited the 54-year-old CEO as saying. The executive, who in December told Bloomberg he had the “financial horsepower” for more deals, reiterated plans to bolster the company’s electrification arm in Latin America, southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The sale of the power grids division, applauded by activist investor Cevian Capital AB, which had been pushing for a break-up of ABB for years, will take time as a carve-out of the business is needed in every country, he said. The CEO acknowledged having a “16-meter-long plan” in his office with details of the disposal’s execution. ABB, which is also simplifying its organizational structure to boost efficiency, will only resort to layoffs as a last option, he told NZZ.

Spiesshofer defended his decision to defy Cevian in 2016 by hanging on to the power-grid division. The unit could be sold now only because it was revamped and “we no longer have to act from a weak position,” he told NZZ. Lars Forberg, managing partner at Cevian, said in a Friday interview with Bloomberg Television that Cevian “fully supports” ABB’s reorganization.

Here is what else Spiesshofer told the Swiss newspaper:

ABB has “fundamentally robust cash flow,” which will help the company fund future acquisitionsSimplification of ABB won’t happen overnight and the CEO doesn’t want to be “over-hasty:” “I’m not a short-term optimizer, I want to do the right thing in the long run”When asked how much longer he intends to remain CEO of ABB, Spiesshofer replied: “The work is fun. I’d like to continue to be available.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Albertina Torsoli in Geneva at atorsoli@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net, Andrew Davis, Andre Janse van Vuuren

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