Terrence Hahn took over Tuesday as chief executive at Axalta Coatings Systems Ltd., a Philadelphia-based car-paint and industrial-coatings company. He replaces founding CEO Charlie Shaver, who left to head the chemical group at AkzoNobel, a Dutch paints and chemicals giant that tried to merge with Axalta last year.
Hahn promised in a statement "to drive both organic growth and inorganic growth," a signal he will continue Shaver's record of buying smaller coatings companies while working to boost auto-refinishing paint sales, or at least profits. Axalta, based in Center City, had $4.4 billion in revenue last year and employs 13,000 globally.
Spun out of DuPont Co. five years ago, Axalta has back offices in Chadds Ford and is building a $90 million office and R&D center at the Navy Yard complex in South Philly.
Shaver praised Hahn's "extensive track record of both improving and growing multibillion-dollar businesses" when he named Hahn his successor in July. A Lehigh University materials-science grad with a Wharton MBA, Hahn spent 20 years at Allentown-based Air Products & Chemicals Inc., then 10 years at Honeywell International Inc., rising to chief executive of the company's Switzerland-based Transportation Systems (engine parts) business. Hahn earlier headed Fluorine (including "non-ozone-depleting" refrigerants) for Honeywell. At both companies, he spent a lot of time developing markets in Asia.
As Axalta's previous CEO, Shaver was paid about $8.4 million in Axalta stock and cash last year, and $33 million over the last three years. Hahn's pay wasn't disclosed at Honeywell because he wasn't one of its top five officers.
A chemical engineer by training, Shaver bragged on his record at Axalta in an interview posted two weeks ago by McKinsey, a management-consulting firm, shortly before AkzoNobel announced Shaver will head its planned chemical spin-off. The new company will be controlled by Carlyle Group, the Washington-based buyout group, and coinvestor GIC, a sovereign-wealth fund controlled by the nation of Singapore.
It's not the first time Shaver has agreed to run a spin-off for Carlyle: That firm put him in charge of setting up Axalta five years ago, as the buyout firm was negotiating to purchase the paints and coatings business from DuPont for $4.9 billion. It is currently worth around $7.2 billion on the Nasdaq stock market.
Shaver joined Axalta because he saw an opportunity that DuPont had neglected, he told McKinsey. The Wilmington chemical conglomerate kept the plants looking good and running smoothly, but had stopped investing in the business, he said: "Everything was about cash generation to support the rest of DuPont." DuPont shut down its historic Philadelphia paint plant on Grays Ferry Avenue in 2010; it is now home to the University of Pennsylvania's Pennovation research commercialization center.
Shaver said he replaced 80 of Axalta's top 120 managers. He took the company public in a 2014 initial public stock offering. The stock peaked at $34.25 later that year, and has since declined to about $30 a share.
With all its acquisitions and multimillion-dollar executives, why hasn't Axalta's stock price gone up with the rest of the market?
Shaver blamed South America — the collapse in orders from Venezuela, whose economy, once the continent's richest, has contracted under socialist rulers; and from Brazil, South America's largest country, which is suffering an economic crisis. Shaver said the drop in orders from the two countries knocked $150 million in yearly earnings out of Axalta's projections, forcing it to squeeze additional profits from auto-refinishing paint sales in other countries, and to "accelerate merger and acquisition plans" for industrial coatings firms.
To stay independent as the remaining multinationals buy up hundreds of smaller companies, and to keep its top market positions, Shaver said, Axalta will have to invest more in Asia. He said Axalta had avoided the mistakes of rivals such as AkzoNobel and PPG, who were "overpaying on large assets," and was instead focused on "smaller bolt-on acquisitions."