The chairman of Bayer AG has announced plans to leave, amid ongoing discussions to resolve the massive Monsanto Roundup litigation that’s weighed so heavily on the German conglomerate’s bottom line in recent years.
“We have made and continue to make progress in handling the legal issues in the U.S. That’s why now is a good time to hand over to my successor,” Werner Wenning said in a statement released on Wednesday.
According to Reuters, Wenning was a primary architect of Bayer’s $63 million Monsanto acquisition, which has left the company defending more than 43,000 lawsuits that blame Roundup weed killer for causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers.
Monsanto Roundup lawsuits began going to trial shortly after the acquisition was completed in June 2018, with three California juries ruling in favor of plaintiffs. The combined awards totaled more than $2 billion, and Bayer has yet to win a single case.
Bayer’s stock has declined by about 25% since the first Monsanto Roundup verdict was announced in August 2018. The debacle also earned Wenning and the rest of the company’s leadership a rare rebuke at last year’s annual shareholder meeting.
Bayer began participating in court-ordered settlement discussions last year. Those talks are being led by Kenneth Feinberg, the prominent attorney who successfully helmed negotiations for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, the BP Oil Spill, and the GM faulty ignition switch scandal.
Feinberg recently expressed optimism that the Monsanto Roundup negotiations will lead to a global settlement involving as many as 85,000 claims. While a half-dozen Roundup lawsuits were scheduled to go to trial in January and February, those cases were postponed to allow the parties to focus on the talks.
Analyst have predicted that a Monsanto Roundup settlement could cost Bayer as much as $12 billion. Some reports suggest the company is considering an agreement in the neighborhood of $10 billion.
According to Reuters, Wenning’s term as chairman of Bayer’s non-executive supervisory board was set to expire in 2022. The 73-year-old said he had planned to step down last year, when he reached the board’s recommended age limit of 72, but was asked to stay on. Wenning will officially leave his position on April 28th, following this year’s annual meeting.
Norbert Winkeljohann, who has served on Bayer’s supervisory board since 2018, will assume the chairmanship. Prior to his tenure with Bayer, Winkeljohann was head of auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Europe SE.