Bonn An era came to an end in Bonn on Thursday. Ulrich Lehner, who chaired the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Telekom for 14 years, welcomed the shareholders to the Annual General Meeting for the last time.
Lehner is a legend at Deutsche Telekom. In a thank-you video that CEO Höttges had played for him, the Management and Supervisory Board made clear the high respect that Lehner enjoys in the Group. Even the self-confident Höttges confessed that he was “a little scared when he started as a youngster”. Lehner later quipped with a smile that he was “not used to” receiving so much praise.
His designated successor Frank Appel, however, started rather unhappily in a pose of justification. Several shareholder representatives – for example from Deutsche Bank subsidiary DWS or Union Investment – announced at the Annual General Meeting that they would vote against his appointment. The reason: Appel wants to remain the CEO of Deutsche Post for about a year at the same time.
This accumulation of offices had already caused criticism in advance, as it contradicts the recommendations of the Corporate Governance Code. Especially with a company with state participation, according to the tenor of the critics, this is a questionable signal. After all, the set of rules was created on the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Justice. “Two top positions are one too many,” complained Henrik Pontzen of Union Investment. Even if Appel’s qualifications are undisputed.
Major shareholders see no problem
It didn’t help that the head of the Post office promised as part of his presentation that he would waive part of his duties there from July. In addition, according to Appel, he successfully headed Swiss Post for three years and at the same time headed the Supervisory Board of Postbank.
Lehner emphasized the time advantage, since his successor lives near Bonn and the headquarters of the Post office is also not far away. “Available candidates of this caliber are rare,” says Lehner.
Most shareholder representatives, such as Ingo Speich from the savings banks fund company Deka, were not convinced. Appel had to run a global logistics group at the same time, Speich told Handelsblatt. This is an extremely challenging job, especially in view of the Ukrainian war.
Appel’s appointment, however, was not really in jeopardy, as the most important major shareholders, such as the federal government, nevertheless wanted to vote for him. So he was finally elected to the Supervisory Board around 19 o’clock with almost 84 percent of the votes of the share capital present. He later appointed him as its chairman.
Ambitious plans for fiber optic expansion and US business
Telekom CEO Höttges used the Annual General Meeting to confirm his ambitious business goals. The group wants to grow on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA, especially with business customers and in the country, where the market share of the subsidiary T-Mobile US has so far been below 20 percent. In the case of fiber optic expansion in Germany, “significantly more” than ten million connections are now to be laid within two years.
Höttges intends to increase adjusted earnings per share from the current EUR 1.22 to EUR 1.75 by 2024. Then Deutsche Telekom, whose debt had recently risen to a record value of 132.1 billion euros, also wants to comply with its own limits in terms of liabilities again. With regard to the loans, Höttges spoke of “a huge sum”, for which, however, favorable interest rates had been secured in the long term. A remedy could be the sale of the Group’s own radio towers, for which there is “an extremely high demand” on the market, according to Höttges.
A project for fast Internet on the train
At the beginning of the meeting, he had presented the project “Black Sheepdog”. Deutsche Telekom, together with Deutsche Bahn, wants to finally make mobile communications on trains more reliable. For this, repeaters are installed on the roofs of the wagons and the panes are lasered.
Deutsche Telekom’s dividend for the past financial year rose by just four cents to 64 cents per share. This “stingy dividend policy” (Deka-Mann Speich) was criticized by several shareholders. The great successes in the USA, it was said, would not reach the German shareholders.
The Annual General Meeting of Deutsche Telekom was the first of a Dax Group to be held as a face-to-face event again since the beginning of the corona pandemic. According to official figures, more than 1,500 shareholders had arrived.