FRANKFURT German industrial gases group Linde's (LING.DE) top two executives are leaving the company, Linde announced on Tuesday, raising the possibility that abandoned merger talks with U.S. rival Praxair (PX.N) could come back onto the agenda.
The German company had sought to create a $60-billion-plus industrial gases market leader in a merger of equals with Praxair, but the two companies said on Monday they had agreed to end the talks.
Finance chief Georg Denoke, who was cited by people close to the matter as a disruptive influence with ambitions to lead the company himself, is leaving the management board immediately, Linde said in a statement.
Chief Executive Wolfgang Buechele will not extend his contract beyond April 2017.
Chairman Wolfgang Reitzle, once again the most powerful man at Linde after vacating the CEO position two years ago, said the company would now concentrate on organic growth.
He also told German business daily Handelsblatt that other rivals would be a poor fit for Linde compared with Praxair.
But people close to Linde said the departures made it more likely that talks with Praxair could restart.
"With new management in place, new talks could come about," said one.
One source close to the merger talks said Denoke campaigned against the deal aggressively. Another source close to Linde said tension had been building between Denoke and Buechele.
Others said Denoke had merely been lukewarm about the deal but that this was the last straw in a history of conflict.
Attempts by Reuters to reach Denoke were not successful and Linde said it could no longer speak for its former CFO.
Shares in Linde closed 4.6 percent higher at 144.85 euros on the news, making up some ground lost on Monday when they fell 7 percent on the collapse of the talks.
"I was personally disappointed that I could not reach the goal of creating the number one globally. This has not been an easy decision," Buechele said in a statement.
Reitzle praised Buechele's "sense of responsibility" in making sure the interests of Linde's German presence would have been secured in any merger.
The talks foundered on where the combined firm would have its key operations, and who would occupy the main management roles, sources had told Reuters.
"Linde will now redouble its focus on its core markets and expand the company's competitive position based on its considerable inherent strengths," Reitzle said.
Reitzle said the search for a successor to Buechele would start immediately.
Linde's head of Group Treasury, Sven Schneider, will take over from CFO Denoke on an interim basis.
(Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt and Sophie Sassard in London; Writing by Maria Sheahan and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Victoria Bryan and Susan Thomas)