Evonik is the new name adopted this month by RAG, a German conglomerate formed in the 1950s to take over the country's mining interests. In the intervening years, the company expanded its portfolio to include energy generation; real estate; and, since late 2006 through its ownership of Degussa, chemicals.
Then, in a political settlement reached earlier this year, RAG transferred its mining operations into a stand-alone foundation. That move opened the way for RAG to prepare for a stock market launch next spring.
Now the company has what its managers see as a coherent identity under the umbrella of a new name: Evonik Energy; Evonik Real Estate; and as the renamed Degussa will be known, Evonik Chemicals.
According to Werner Müller, the chief executive who has driven RAG's reshaping, "Evonik is Germany's creative industrial group for chemicals, energy, and real estate. Our goal is to become one of the most creative industrial groups in the world."
Evonik, he reported, has achieved an impressive track record during four years of restructuring, significantly increasing its operating performance. Over those years, Evonik has divested some 480 companies with sales of nearly $11 billion and 35,000 employees, while acquiring Degussa, which now accounts for almost 80% of its sales.
In 2006, Evonik's 43,000 employees worldwide generated sales of roughly $20 billion and operating profits of $1.6 billion. In the first half of this year, sales rose 3%, while operating earnings increased 26%.
The new Evonik brand, which also includes a new corporate color, deep purple, will be launched in the coming weeks and months. Previous corporate brands such as Degussa in chemicals, Steag in coal and energy, and RAG Immobilien in real estate will be phased out.
One reason for Evonik's rebranding is that it is easier for a company to build and promote a single, cohesive corporate name than it is to support a clutch of disparate identities. But the renaming is also an opportunity for the company to leave behind Degussa's unsavory World War II history.
Degussa played a pivotal role in the processing of plundered precious metals in Nazi-occupied Europe. It also controlled the production and distribution of the cyanide fumigant Zyklon B, used to gas the inmates of the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps, Peter Hayes points out in his 2004 book "From Cooperation to Complicity."
Degussa's board of directors decided in 1997 to open its archives and books to Hayes, a professor of history and German and Theodore Z. Weiss Professor of Holocaust Studies at Northwestern University, for a study of Degussa and the Third Reich. The company was embroiled in controversy at the time over restitution payments to Holocaust survivors, and its managers were trying to make amends for actions by their predecessors nearly 70 years earlier.
Many of their overtures had begun to win Degussa—by that time bearing little connection with the wartime company—grudging respect. The sentiment was not universal, however, and it was clear that Degussa, founded in the 1860s, would never escape the taint of its past. Thus, few tears will be shed as the company name—a German acronym for the German Gold & Silver Separation Institute—slips quietly into oblivion.