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ABB planning more deals to expand in robotics: CEO

Geneva

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 grid 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, South-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The sale of the power grid 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.

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The CEO acknowledged having a "16-metre-long plan" in his office with details of the disposal's execution. ABB, which is also simplifying its organisational structure to boost efficiency, will only resort to layoffs as a last option, he told the paper.

Mr 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 said.

Lars Forberg, managing partner at Cevian, said in a Friday interview with Bloomberg Television that Cevian "fully supports" ABB's reorganisation.

Mr Spiesshofer also told the Swiss newspaper that ABB has "fundamentally robust cash flow", which will help the company to fund future acquisitions. Simplification of ABB won't happen overnight and the CEO doesn't want to be "over-hasty", he added. "I'm not a short-term optimiser, I want to do the right thing in the long run."

When asked how much longer he intends to remain CEO of ABB, he replied: "The work is fun. I'd like to continue to be available." BLOOMBERG