The massive doors of Villa Hügel in Essen remained closed to the public for three months due to the corona pandemic. Now some visitors are strolling through the dark and high halls of the Gründerzeit estate of the Krupp entrepreneurial family. With a living and usable area of ​​more than 8,000 square meters, the building is one of the greatest monuments of early industrial wealth. During the mandatory break, craftsmen freshly polished the wood paneling in the former living room and restored a series of tapestries from the 17th century. Together with the meter-high oil portraits of family members, they provide impressive evidence of a bygone era.

This article comes from the "WirtschaftsWoche".

The once largest industrial group in Europe, which shaped German history like no other company for more than a century, is going through the worst crisis since Friedrich Krupp founded a cast steel factory in 1811. Years ago, Thyssenkrupp suffered bad investments and increasing competition on the world market overthrown an existence-threatening crisis that has recently worsened again significantly. Since the demand for steel and other products of the group, which emerged from the merger of the former rivals in 1999, has collapsed due to the corona, CEO Martina Merz could ultimately be forced to smash it.

Bitter aftertaste

The sale of the elevator business has been completed, and by far the most valuable and future-oriented line of business in the group has been finally separated. A consortium led by the financial investors Advent and Cinven as well as the Essen-based RAG-Stiftung put more than 17 billion euros in the division. Private equity firms have never invested more money in a deal in Germany - and they probably wouldn't do it today either. Due to Corona, all calculations are invalid for the time being; In order to justify the purchase price, the new owners are likely to take a tough austerity course. The interest in the elevator division was so great that the buyers even agreed to exclude renegotiations due to changed external circumstances in the purchase agreement.

For CEO Merz this is a success with a bitter aftertaste. With the income from the sale, she can reduce the debt burden and secure pension expenses. However, there is probably less money available than expected for the planned investments in the future. In the first nine months of the current financial year, Merz expects a loss of up to one billion euros. Short-time work is the order of the day until the end of 2020. And even if the group has so far only applied for a KfW special loan, but has not withdrawn, there is repeated talk in its environment that it will hardly be able to survive without state aid.

CEO Merz tries nevertheless to work through her program objectively and calmly. Last year she moved from the top of the supervisory board to operational management of the group. There should be no more taboos in the future. And as if she wanted to prove it, the former Bosch manager has now also put the heart of the company to the test after the elevators. Steel production is considered too small to be able to survive on its own in the long term. A partner should now strengthen them decisively.

Merz's predecessor Heinrich Hiesinger said he had already found it in the European business of the Indian Tata group. The negotiated merger failed due to the veto of the European cartel watchdogs.

Now this idea could be revived in an adapted structure. As further possible partners, Merz named the Salzgitter groups from Germany, SSAB from Sweden and Baowu from China.