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Bayer chair wins backing from major shareholder advisory firms

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the annual results news conference of the German drugmaker in Leverkusen

By Patricia Weiss and Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Bayer Chairman Norbert Winkeljohann has won backing for his re-election from a pair of major shareholder advisory firms despite criticism from two German investment groups for his numerous board commitments.

In separate reports made available to Reuters, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis said they were backing Winkeljohann when his term comes up for a renewal vote at the drug company's April 28 annual shareholder meeting.

Both firms declined to give any reasons for their recommendations.

German mutual funds groups DWS and Union Investment last month condemned the multiple board commitments of the Bayer chairman, adding to upheaval at the company which is the target of activist investors in the run-up to a change of chief executive on June 1.

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Union Investment at the time said it would not vote for Winkeljohann's re-election, while DWS would not be drawn on its voting intentions.

Winkeljohann led the search for a new chief and the eventual hiring of former Roche executive Bill Anderson, after earlier this year facing calls from numerous investors to quickly replace CEO Werner Baumann.

In a further sign of investor support, weekly magazine WirtschaftsWoche this month cited unnamed sources as saying that Temasek, the sovereign wealth fund of Singapore and a major shareholder in Bayer, will back the re-election of Winkeljohann.

A former head of six European countries at auditing and consulting firm PwC, Winkeljohann has chaired Bayer's non-executive board since 2020.

He is also Deutsche Bank's deputy chairman, chairman at unlisted wholesale trade groups Sievert SE and Bohnenkamp AG as well as a board member at steel maker Georgsmarienhuette GmbH.

In its notice of the AGM, Bayer has said the "supervisory board has satisfied itself" that Winkeljohann is able to make time for his duties, taking into account his seats on other boards.

Bayer's incoming CEO Anderson inherits a full in-tray from his predecessor: thousands of lawsuits claiming its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, an underwhelming drug development pipeline, and disgruntled investors looking for major change.

Bayer has repeatedly said Roundup is safe to use and that environmental regulators share that view.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Miranda Murray and David Holmes)