Akzo Nobel NV Chief Executive Officer Ton Buechner, who is fending off a bid from U.S. rival PPG Industries Inc. (PPG), is rushing to rally investor support for his strategy to break up the Dutch paint maker while at the same time accelerating the hunt for potential acquisitions, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Buechner has assembled a task force of executives and advisers that meets daily with the expectation PPG is poised to sweeten its $22 billion offer, which was rejected by the Amsterdam-based company last week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. The CEO is even wary of traveling because he doesn’t want to be caught on the road in the event of a new bid, they said.

“There have been various opinions among shareholders. It was our responsibility to balance these and we came to this decision,” Akzo CEO Ton Buechner said.
“There have been various opinions among shareholders. It was our responsibility to balance these and we came to this decision,” Akzo CEO Ton Buechner said. Bloomberg News

Shareholders are being contacted to bolster backing for separating the chemicals business in a move that could boost Akzo’s firepower for deals to as much as 10 billion euros ($11 billion), they said. One possible target that’s been on Akzo’s list for years is Axalta Coatings Systems Ltd. Spokesmen for Akzo and PPG declined to comment. A representative from Axalta could not be reached outside of normal business hours.

Buechner is under pressure as a PPG bid may be tempting to investors who have watched Akzo lose its top spot in the global coatings industry and its share price lag behind that of peers such as Sherwin-Williams Co. The Dutch national is attune to the potential pitfalls of mega-deals after spending his five years at the helm cutting costs and lowering debt following Akzo’s $17 billion purchase of Imperial Chemical Industries in 2008. Pittsburgh-based PPG’s bid is part of a wave of consolidation in the chemicals sector that includes a tie up between Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co.

In rejecting PPG’s offer last week, Akzo said it may divest its specialty chemicals business, which had sales of 4.8 billion euros last year, or about a third of total revenue. A sale could fetch about 10 billion euros, people familiar with the matter have said. Though Akzo’s top profit generator, production of commodity chemicals like chlorine have weighed on its valuation.

PPG’s bid brought forward and hastened work the CEO had already begun last year on hiving off the chemicals business, the people said. Buechner would have preferred unveiling a breakup in the third quarter, and executives involved have had to work on it flat out since last week, one of the people said. Options for the business are still under review, including a possible spin off or a sale, and executives back using the proceeds for takeovers, the people said.

Axalta Coatings, which has headquarters in Philadelphia and a market value of $7.5 billion, is among potential targets, according to the people. Buechner faced frustration from within the company when he didn’t acquire the business in 2013, when DuPont sold it to Carlyle Group LP, according to two people familiar with the matter.

At the time, the newly-installed Buechner considered such a large deal too risky for Akzo’s balance sheet, they said. Instead, one of his first moves was to sell Akzo’s struggling U.S. paint brand Glidden to PPG for $1.1 billion, and then focus on company-wide restructuring to improve margins.

Large buyout firms are considering teaming up or finding partners to bid for Akzo’s chemical business, said one of the people, adding that one portion would be attractive to BASF SE, which might convince another company or private equity partner to take the rest. A spokesperson for BASF could not be reached for immediate comment.

Bloomberg News