Interview to Ceo Valerio Battista discussing our path and 2017 estimates
In an interview with IlSole24Ore, the most influential Italian economic newspaper, Valerio Battista discusses the Group’s way as a public company, with a look at 2017.
“Control is exercised not only on the basis of the number of shares, but also through results and the fact that all shareholders follow you.” Valerio Battista, Chief Executive Officer, has since 2005 been at the helm of the international company — now truly an Italian public company, i.e., without a majority shareholder. Only two equity interests are subject to reporting to Consob - the government authority of Italy responsible for regulating the Italian securities market: the 6.199% held by Clubtree (a company 35.0% owned by TIP, 32.5% by Angelini Partecipazioni Finanziarie and 32.5% by d’Amico Società di Navigazione) and the 3.034% held by Norges Bank. The company’s employees also owns an approximately 1% interest. The rest of equity is in the hands of institutional and private investors. In addition, Prysmian is currently holding the third edition of its initiative aimed at offering shares to employees for purchase at a 25% discount, which this time will also extend to its operations in China. “It is an opportunity to ensure that the employees have a stake in the group’s performance,” Battista emphasised.
Despite its widely held shares, the company’s management has remained stable since its listing in 2007. “It is impossible to protect against a possible attack by someone interested in taking over a company. Clearly, as a public company, we pursue the interests of all of our shareholders. If the interests of all stakeholders are respected, then the problem of sale to third parties is not an issue. A public tender offer would also create value,” explained Battista. “As proof of its intention to remain in Italy,” added the CEO added, “Prysmian wanted its new headquarters to be in what has traditionally been the heart of high-tech in Milan, the area between Milan Polytechnic and the University of Milano-Bicocca, where it has built a new headquarters linked to the research and development facility.”
Seventy percent of Italian businesses are still family-owned. The problem arises at the moment of generational transfer. Does the solution lie in professional management?
When a company is family-owned, there is a family succession problem that may result in less-than-optimal leadership of the company. If the entrepreneur lacks the foresight to create an adequate succession process within the family, he or she must have the courage to pass the sceptre to someone from outside the family.
What role can a manager play in ensuring decisions that are oriented towards respecting all shareholders?
Let me give you a practical example: when in 2005 the leveraged buy-out of Pirelli Cavi occurred, resulting in the creation of Prysmian, I set a condition in response to the possibility of excessive leverage: I would not be involved if the leverage decided on was more than five times the company’s EBITDA. This is what it means to act in the interest of all stakeholders and make sustainable decisions, including from a financial standpoint.
Have you been approached by potential buyers in recent years?
A few years ago, when the shares were trading at low levels, various funds came to me saying that it would have been interesting to delist the company and taking it private, but I answered that this would not have been in the interest of all shareholders and that I thus would not participate in a transaction of this kind. I do not see risks for Prysmian’s independence on the horizon. Certainly, we are by definition an open company vulnerable to a takeover and we cannot rule out the possibility, for example, that some Asian industrial group might come knocking with the aim of obtaining global leadership in our sector.
What are your estimates for 2017?
Business is not booming but it remains sound and we have quite a long order backlog. The telecom sector remains strong. Our focus is on cash flow generation and investing the proceeds of the €500 million equity-linked bond, which we will use to buy-back shares that can then be utilised in possible acquisitions. Because right now our leverage is starting to be very low.