As the takeover battle for AkzoNobel heats up, just how ‘Dutch’ is it really

Photo: AkzoNobel

Dutch paint maker AkzoNobel is being hotly pursued by American peer PPG. The potential takeover has prompted economic affairs minister Henk Kamp to say it is  in the Netherlands’ interests to make sure Dutch multinationals continue to be led from the Netherlands.’ So just how Dutch is AkzoNobel?

True, the company is headquartered in the Zuidas business district in Amterdam. True, its shares are traded on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. And AkzoNobel operates in more than 80 countries around the world. Its main operations are paints and coatings and specialty chemicals. AkzoNobel is truly a multinational.

So how much money does it make in the Netherlands? In 2016, the group turned over €14.2bn. About one-third of this was generated in Europe, of which €1.4bn, or 10%, in the Netherlands.

And what about its local workforce? AkzoNobel has a global payroll of 46,000, and 4,900 of them are in the Netherlands – so around 10% then.

Share ownership in the Netherlands, however, falls below the 10% level and AkzoNobel itself putting Dutch share ownership at 8%. About two-thirds of its shares are in the hands of Anglo-American investors, headed by North Americans with 48% and the UK with 17%. In terms of ownership, them, AkzoNobel is already American.

Origins

So what about its roots? The AkzoNobel website states that the company’s origins can be traced all the way back to a foundry established in the Swedish countryside by Paul Hossman – not a very Dutch start there then.

Akzo itself was formed only in 1969 with the merger of Algemene Kunstzijde Unie (fibres) and Koninklijke Zout Organon (salt, pharmaceuticals). Akzo ‘merged’ with Sweden’s chemicals and explosives group Nobel Industries in 1994, and almost at the same divested its pharmaceuticals arm Organon.

In 1998, AkzoNobel cherry-picked British-based industrial coatings and synthetic fibres group Courtaulds. A bigger deal took place in 2007 when AkzoNobel acquired most of Britain’s Imperial Chemical Industry – ICI.

Thoroughly Dutch AkzoNobel claims that a takeover by/merger with PPG Industries would strip the Amsterdam firm – and the Dutch nation – of its heritage.

End of an era

Imagine then how ICI – and the British nation – felt in 2007 when it was acquired by AkzoNobel. London’s Daily Telegraph described it: ‘The curtain comes down today on one of the great eras of British industry. After 82 years, Imperial Chemical Industries – the erstwhile corporate titan will officially move into new ownership: Dutch rival AkzoNobel.

‘Akzo’s first tricky decision will be whether to retain ICI’s famous brand or consign what has become an emblem of British history to the scrapheap. The decision, an Akzo spokesman said, ‘will not be based on emotion but on what will be the best value for the company for the future,’ the Daily Telegraph said.

Sounds a bit like PPG Industries, which started life as Pittsburgh Plate Glass. If PPG gets its way with AkzoNobel it will have similar decisions to make.