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Farewell to BKW: Suzanne Thomas Wette

It is said in the industry that conglomerates are out. But BKW bought dozens of engineering companies under Suzanne Thoma. So far, the stock market is right. Wouldn’t that be a good moment for the canton of Bern to divest itself of its BKW shares?

BKW boss Suzanne Thoma has increasingly shifted the group’s weight towards engineering and building technology.

Anthony Anex / Keystone

There is no question that the BKW energy group developed extremely strongly on the stock exchange during the Suzanne Thoma era. When she had her first full year as boss in 2014, the company was worth 1.6 billion francs. Now that she is about to hand over responsibility, there are around 6 billion. The shareholders, here with more than half the canton of Bern, can look forward to a total return of over 20 percent – per year. So did Thoma do everything right?

It is striking that the group’s weight is shifting more and more towards engineering and building technology. Several dozen small and medium-sized companies have been taken over here over the years. That makes you suspicious: Isn’t there a movement around the world away from the conglomerate towards a focus on what you do best? Whether it’s Siemens, GE, the pharmaceutical or chemical companies: you can see divisions everywhere: 1 plus 1 is sometimes less than 2 if you get bogged down.

And at BKW? Since one defends against the term conglomerate. The aim is to cover the entire value chain for electricity, i.e. production, distribution and how the energy is used in buildings, says the management. Large customers in particular wanted an integrated offer.

However, the multi-page directory of all the companies – many of them abroad – that BKW has acquired suggests that this will not be an easy task. Is BKW really the best host for all these SMEs? With this strategy, Thoma made a bet that has so far paid off on the stock exchange. That would be a good time for the canton of Bern to take profits: it should sell its shares and give “its” group complete entrepreneurial freedom.

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