Father and son chairman and CEO ousted at Ecology & Environment - The Buffalo News

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Father and son chairman and CEO ousted at Ecology & Environment

The board of directors of Ecology & Environment has overthrown the family that has dominated its leadership team since its founding, removing Gerhard Neumaier as chairman, demoting his son Kevin from the role of CEO and firing another Neumaier family member as manager of the company’s China subsidiary.

Citing a desire to “enhance management performance and improve the company’s profitability,” the board named Gerald A. Strobel CEO at a special board meeting Wednesday, according to a news release. It also amended the corporate bylaws to create a CEO position separately from the role of president and to formally recognize a “chairman of the board” position, which it then promoted Frank Silvestro to fill.

Both Strobel and Silvestro are executive vice presidents and two of the four co-founders of the Lancaster-based environmental consulting firm, along with the elder Neumaier. Strobel is the company’s largest shareholder, holding 8.43 percent of the stock. Silvestro, 76, has been an executive vice president since August 1986 and previously served as a vice president since the company’s formation.

Strobel will now oversee Kevin Neumaier, who will remain as president and will “initially preside” over the company’s domestic U.S. operations “at the CEO’s direction,” the news release said. The president will, however, preside at shareholders’ meetings.

Gerhard Neumaier, who founded the company in 1970, remains a director and will “continue to pursue opportunities in the China market,” which the company has touted for its potential.

However, Volker Neumaier, former China subsidiary manager, was fired July 31. No reason was given, nor was his relationship to the other Neumaiers specified. But E&E board member Ross M. Cellino Sr. said the board felt nothing was being accomplished in China, and directors weren’t happy with the performance there.

The board coup comes as Ecology & Environment struggles to revive its flagging revenues and stock price, both of which have suffered in the past year from problems both domestically and abroad. It continues to win new contracts, but its bottom line has fallen, and it has also faced questions about some of its decisions and expansion efforts.

Trading was halted on Nasdaq because of a technical glitch Thursday, but the company’s shares had already jumped 4.2 percent in just over 30 minutes on rumors and then settled back down, even before the company issued its news release at 11:30 a.m. It resumed trading later in the afternoon and closed up 46 cents at $11.79. The company’s stock last month hit its lowest point – $10.12 per share – since December 2008. Shares were trading for more than $22 each two years ago.

Strobel alone owns 219,604, or $2.5 million worth of the company’s 2.6 million shares, At their peak in 2011, those shares were worth $4.8 million. By contrast, the Neumaiers together hold 2.34 percent of the stock, or 29,640 shares.

The Neumaiers did not respond to requests to comment, nor did other company officials.

Profits plunged 89 percent last year on 8 percent lower revenues, as U.S. customers delayed work on pipelines and other significant energy projects because of falling natural gas prices, while the future of a tax credit for wind energy projects was up in the air until the last minute.

It recovered somewhat in the first quarter, and its second quarter earnings of $1.9 million were the strongest in six quarters, despite revenues falling by 10 percent. The company spent much less on subcontractors that quarter.

Meanwhile, its fiscal third quarter was even worse, as it lost $400,000 while revenues fell 11.8 percent to $32 million. That was its only loss and the second-lowest revenue tally in five years, as its expansion into the Middle East, Africa and Asia left it exposed to more political, regulatory and cultural risks. The company is also facing challenges collecting payments on some contracts in Asia and set aside $400,000 in that quarter for “doubtful accounts.”

In response, the company sought to cut expenses, launching an operational review that led to staff cuts and more limited use of contracted services in a bid to save $2.5 million to $3 million in expenses annually, it said last month.

In its statement, the company said it will “continue to slim its operations” and reduce wasteful expenses. It also predicted changes to management responsibilities “in order to accommodate market realities and to further develop a succession plan.”

The consulting, testing, engineering and design firm maintains 27 U.S. offices and operations worldwide. The company employs about 1,100 specialists working in a host of physical, biological, social and health sciences fields, and has completed more than 50,000 projects for a variety of clients in 122 countries, working in almost every ecosystem. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and government agencies, among others.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com

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