May 26, 2016 / 2:23 PM / 2 years ago

German billionaire could get windfall from stake in robot maker Kuka

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German billionaire Friedhelm Loh stands to make a huge profit if industrial robot manufacturer Kuka (KU2G.DE) accepts a $5-billion takeover bid by Chinese home appliance producer Midea (000333.SZ).

A staff member stands next to robots at a plant of Kuka Robotics in Shanghai, China August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Pete Sweeney/File Photo

But the media-shy entrepreneur has not said whether he will sell his 10-percent stake in Kuka under the offer, announced last week, which would transfer cutting-edge German technology into Chinese hands.

Loh will be under scrutiny for any signal of his intentions on Friday when he attends the annual meeting of Kuka shareholders as a member of its supervisory board even though he would not be able to block the takeover if enough other shareholders take up Midea’s offer.

The meeting in the Bavarian city of Augsburg was called before Midea’s announcement but it is sure to be discussed. Another big shareholder, German mechanical engineering group Voith, holds a 25-percent stake and has not announced its plans.

If Midea’s unsolicited bid is successful, it could net Loh about three times the investment he made over the course of 2014, according to Reuters calculations.

His purchase of a stake in Kuka, a poster child of Germany’s drive to upgrade its manufacturing sector to master the industrial Internet, was his first foray into publicly listed companies just over two years ago. He also owns 25 percent of struggling steel distributor Kloeckner (KCOGn.DE).

But Loh’s main business is the Friedhelm Loh Group, a manufacturing company that grew out of a firm of 200 people which he took over in his mid-twenties. The firm was founded by his father, who worked on the V2 rocket program during World War Two.

The group is now a global leader which employs 11,500 people and makes high-tech industrial enclosures that house cables and provide temperature-controlled environments.

A committed Christian, Loh often invokes his father’s motto: “Pray and work”.

He has a reputation in the industry as a tough boss who is used to getting his own way. Some see him as a visionary with an old-fashioned, paternalistic style. Others portray him as ruthless.

An imposing figure with spiky grey hair that accentuates his height, he has presided over German industry associations, is a consummate networker and a well-known philanthropist.

At 69, he shows no sign of slowing down.

He has not yet achieved the annual turnover target of 3 billion euros he set in 2011 for 2015. Last year, the Friedhelm Loh Group made around 2.2 billion euros in sales.

On Wednesday, he announced the closure of four German sites, as well as a 250 million-euro ($279 million) investment in his larger, more modern plants.

“Industry is changing and therefore we must change — we must always keep our opportunities in view,” he said.

($1 = 0.8965 euros)

Editing by Timothy Heritage

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