Battery Supplier Searches for CEO to Ride Electric-Vehicle Wave

Umicore SA is looking for a new chief executive officer to lead the world’s largest maker of electric-vehicle battery materials, after announcing the planned departure of veteran leader Marc Grynberg.

The Belgian company’s board has started an internal and external search and likely will announce an appointment in the coming months, Grynberg said on a call Thursday. He predicted the new hire will benefit from surging demand for electric vehicles while facing challenges including volatile precious metal prices.

“You need to have a pretty solid constitution and a high degree of serenity in this job to not get carried away when things are going really well and not get pessimistic when things are tough,” Grynberg said.

Battery Supplier Searches for CEO to Ride Electric-Vehicle Wave

Grynberg is stepping down after presiding over an almost sevenfold increase in Umicore’s valuation over more than a dozen years. He’s handing his successor a blank slate, with the company not yet having announced a new five-year plan after completing its Horizon 2020 program ahead of schedule.

The incoming CEO will oversee construction of Umicore’s new EV cathode plant in Poland, the first in Europe, as the bloc looks to establish its own EV battery industry. The Brussels-based company is looking for first-mover advantage as startup Northvolt AB joins incumbent players including LG Chem Ltd. in setting up shop in the region.

The Poland project is about six months behind schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Umicore won’t be able to make up time, Grynberg said. Still, there’s been few other concrete plans announced by rivals.

Prices for cathodes in China have tumbled due to overly optimistic forecasts. Back in 2018, battery-material companies in the country raced to add capacity based on projections of 50% growth in EV sales annually. That didn’t pan out, and it’ll take a couple years for market demand to soak up the excess capacity there, Grynberg said.

Faced with under-utilized plants, China has increased production of lithium-iron phosphate cathodes, which are suitable for lower-priced cars with shorter ranges. While Umicore has historically seen Europe as a market for more premium cathodes, it is no longer ruling out LFP being used in the region for certain product segments. The major underlying trend in Europe remains higher nickel-content cathodes with better energy density, Grynberg said.

Umicore posted record results on Thursday as precious-metal pricing tailwinds offset the slowdown in demand for combustion-engine catalysts.

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