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Ambu chair steps down after tumultous period - denies this is the reason

Jens Bager denies that stopping as chair for Ambu has anything to do with the tumultuous period the company has experienced over the past few years, which included a director firing, sale shares, a lowering of financial expectations and conflicting messages about strategical direction.

Photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

The cheap sales of shares, a controversial director firing, lowering of expectations and conflicting messages about the strategic direction.

The last few years, and 2019, for that matter, have not been kind to Ambu, and on Wednesday morning the chair of the company, Jens Bager, who had had the position for 9 years, chose to step down from the position in the medtech company.

He denies that his exit has anything to do with the much discussed events that have recently plagued the company.

"No, my decision to stop is only due to the fact that after 9 years as chairman, I think the timing is right to let others take over now. Everything has its time, and that is also true of my time as chair," says Lars Bager to MedWatch.

The eye of the storm

Both Ambu and Jens Bager have been subject to hard criticism.

Jens Bager stood in the eye of the storm as confidence within the stock market and investors plummeted, institutional investors drew their swords and questions were asked over whether messages coming from within Ambu were legal.

This isn't Bager's first rodeo.

In 2016 he was fired with immediate effect after sixteen years as CEO of allergy company ALK.

In 2018, he sold around 60 percent of his shares in Ambu at a price of around DKK 241 per share (USD 35.5), giving a total value of DKK 60.2 million (USD 8.9 million) - and many have speculated about what knowledge Bager had that prompted this sale.

A few days later leading investor Chr. Augustinus Fabrikker sold shares worth almost DKK 3 billion (USD 442 million) with a considerable discount of over 10 percent. This meant they avoided a billion kroner loss, and questions about information they had access to have also been asked of Jens Bager.

In 2019, Bager raised eyebrows by unexpectedly firing Lars Marcher, who had been CEO of Ambus for more than 10 years. This surprised investors and caused a drop in share prices.

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On the same day Marcher was fired, Ambu announced his replacement, Juan Jose Gonzalez, a surprise choice that led to a further billion kroner drop in market value.

At the time, Bager said that the overall direction of the company would not be changed, who ensured that both the strategy and financial goals of the company would remain the same under Juan Jose Gonzalez's leadership.

That didn't last long.

The night before Ambu presented its third quarter financial report, it stopped the collaboration with its sales partner of many years, Tri-anim, who had sold Ambus' disposable medical radar, Ascopes. The company also lowered its financial expectations for the year at that time.

Just one month after the new CEO's first day, the company lowered its financial expectations and scrapped its formally hyped up product SC210. Ambu has therefore presented a yearly financial report with a worse than expected sales prognosis.

His own decision

So again, Jens Bager - is your decision to stop as chairman in any way affected by the recent period's mostly negative focus on you and Ambu?

"No, I think that it is right that when you have been on the board for so many years, as I have, you make way for new people. The timing is right, because Ambu is setting off on a new, exciting journey with big changes and big growth ahead. There's no more to it than that," says Jens Bager.

Can you see the argument that in a period with such big changes and uncertainty at Ambu, it would be sensible to have some continuity at the board level, and that it therefore seems strange that you are stepping down now?

"I don't think I can. As I said, I've been at the company for nine years as chairman. That is a very long time in Ambus' lifetime and it is therefore right to get new energy and fresh eyes into the company," says Jens Bager.

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"in my view, and according to the rules for good business leadership, 9-12 years is a good length of time to sit on a board. And that is a concrete and real reason in my opinion," he elaborates.

Jens Bager denies that anyone other than himself has influenced his decision to step down.

"As it says in the announcement made by the business, this is completely my own decision."

You started the process of change and shift towards the future of Ambu - why don't you want to be there for the next period of the company's life, which seems like it will be exciting and positive?

"A new direction has been established for the company, and as I have been there for 9 years I would say my time is running out. The new CEO, Juan Jose Gonzales, has started a lot of changes at Ambu and it is therefore right that a new chair takes Ambu on the next leg of the journey?"

Does this mean you disagree with the new direction Juan Jose Gonzales has chosen for Ambu?

"No. I very much agree with the company's new direction."

Welcomes new replacement

The board has appointed Lars Rasmussen as Bager's replacement. Lars Rasmussen was CEO of Coloplast for several years and is also chairman of both Coloplast and Lundbeck.

Jens Bager says he is a very good choice.

"I can't imagine Ambu getting a better or more competent chairman at the current stage of its journey," he says.

When the former chairman looks back on his nine years at Ambu, he reflects that both positive and less positive events have defined the period - though Jens Bager finds it hard to pinpoint any concrete actions.

"It isn't just one decision that has led the company to where it is today - it is a long list of strategic and operational decisions," says Jens Bager.

"If I had to highlight one thing, that would be the journey from being a smaller small-cap company to being a c25 company today, which has multiplied revenue, earnings and the worth of the company. I am very proud of and humbled by being able to be part of that journey," says Jens Bager.

When asked about his worst experience as his time as chair at Ambu and whether there is anything he would do differently in hindsight, his answer is similarly vague.

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"Of course there are things I would do differently. But just as I can't pinpoint one single reason for the company being where it is today, I also can't narrow it down to one single bad thing," he says.

As a board member and leader you make a lot of decisions, and there are occasionally some things that you would like to have done better, he explains.

"But if you don't make some mistakes on the way, you haven't tried hard enough," says Jens Bager.

Will continue as investor and active board member

Although Jens Bager will no longer have to go to Ballerup for board meetings, there is still enough to keep the businessman, who has three children and is a keen marathon runner, occupied.

"I will continue doing what I do - both as investor and as a board member of several companies," Jens Bager says.

Among other things, he still owns a large amount of shares in Ambu and is on the board of games firm Better Collective, and doesn't deny that more board positions might come into play.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that at this stage," Jens Bager says.

English Edit: Catherine Brett

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