Rumours over Lieb’s resignation from Schenker

Rumours surround the resignation of DB Schenker boss Thomas Lieb. On Thursday (12/3/15), DB Schenker issued a statement that “Thomas Lieb, 56, Chairman of Management Board of Schenker AG, will leave the company and the Deutsche Bahn Group effective March 31, 2015” commenting that he had “already resigned from his position as Head of Business Unit DB Schenker Logistics and Chairman of Management Board of Schenker AG yesterday”. No reason for his departure was given.

This has triggered speculation in the press and elsewhere about the reason for Thomas Lieb’s exit.

It has been suggested that his departure reflected concern by the senior management of Deutsche Bahn over the performance of DB Schenker, specifically concern that its forwarding and contract logistics business had been missing sales targets. Certainly in Financial Year 2013 sales did fall whilst profits margins at 2.25% were not spectacular. However such is the lack of numbers produced by Deutsche Bahn it is difficult to come to any certain conclusion about this.

It has also been suggested, for example in the DVZ newspaper, that Dr Lieb wished to be promoted to the head of ‘Deutsche Bahn Transport and Logistics’, the division of Deutsche Bahn that includes DB Schenker as well as the rail freight operations of the organisation. His resignation, it is implied, was triggered by being passed-over for this job.

Yet another idea was being floated by Reuters and the Handelsblatt newspaper. At present there is an enquiry by the Cologne Public Prosecutors Office into allegations of bribery by employees of Schenker to individuals at the Port of St Petersburg, with the objective of easing the passage of freight through the port. The implication is that Lieb could have been drawn into this enquiry. However there appears to be no evidence of this.

As is often the case in such situations the senior management of the company sees no benefit in explaining its actions. This is compounded by the fact that Deutsche Bahn is a state-owned entity and is not under pressure to produce the sorts of financial and other data flow that publicly quoted companies would be obliged to. It will be interesting to see if an explanation does emerge when Deutsche Bahn publishes its yearly results on March 19, however with an organisation as opaque a Deutsche Bahn it would be wise not to be too hopeful.