The supervisory board of Celesio has sacked the German drugs distributor's chief executive, Markus Pinger, with immediate effect after a falling out with the head of parent company Franz Haniel & Cie .
The dismissal came after Reuters reported earlier this week that U.S. drugs distribution groups McKesson Corp and Cardinal Health Inc were both in talks to possibly take a stake in Celesio.
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"The Supervisory Board of Celesio AG has decided today to dismiss Markus Pinger as chief executive officer and member of the board of the company with immediate effect," Celesio said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The separation is due to different opinions of the management of the company," it said.
Tensions between Pinger and Haniel head Stephan Gemkow had escalated after Gemkow contacted the potential investors, thus seizing control over negotiations previously led by Pinger, two sources familiar with the company said.
Pinger and Gemkow had also clashed over internal management, such as the departure of two managers at wholesale unit Gehe, one of the sources plus a third person with knowledge of the situation said.
Celesio declined to comment further on the reasons for Pinger's departure.
Holding company Haniel, which holds a little over half of Celesio's shares, said it backed the supervisory board's decision to fire Pinger.
Pinger's predecessor Fritz Oesterle, who left in June 2011, also had a strained relationship with Haniel.
Pinger had reversed Oesterle's foray into diversified healthcare services and focused the company on its core business of drugs distribution and pharmacies while trying to grow abroad, so his departure after just two years could raise questions over the future direction of the company.
Shares in Celesio, which owns the Lloyds Pharmacy chain in Britain, closed down 6.9 percent. Its shares had risen over 7 percent on Monday after the stake talks were reported.
"Given the fact that the strategic realignment and efficiency measures introduced by Pinger have started to pay off, the dismissal comes as a surprise," said DZ Bank analyst Thomas Maul.
Celesio said that Pinger's duties would be taken over on an interim basis by finance chief Marion Helmes.
Haniel has previously said that Celesio remained a core investment for the group, even though it reduced its stake last year. Haniel also sold down its holdings in retailer Metro AG and office equipment trader Takkt .
DZ Bank's Maul said the dismissal suggested Haniel was not willing to reduce further its 50.01 percent stake in Celesio.
(Reporting by Frank Siebelt, Matthias Inverardi and Victoria Bryan; Editing by Pravin Char)