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Liftoff for Air Products After Ackman Enters

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Add Air Products (APD - Get Report) to Bill Ackman's list of successful activist investments, after the hedge funder agitated to revamp the company's management and board. Air Products said on Wednesday it has hired Seifi Ghasemi, a recent board appointment and former Rockwell Holdings (ROC) CEO, to replace outgoing CEO John E. McGlade.

Ackman Expects Influence in Air Products CEO Search

Ghasemi's CEO appointment isn't much of a surprise, and is likely to be looked at favorably by investors and stock analysts given his proven track record in the chemicals sector. Ackman was supportive of Ghasemi's appointment to Air Products' board in late 2013. Earlier this year, he expected to have a role in picking McGlade's successor.

"We don't control the decision, we have a lot of influence over it," Ackman said at the Harbor Investment Conference in February. Pershing Square Capital Management holds a near 10% stake in Air Products shares worth in excess of $2.6 billion, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings compiled by Bloomberg as of the first quarter.

In September, Air Products named three new independent directors to its board and said current CEO McGlade would retire in 2014. Those changes were accepted by Pershing Square, which voted in favor of directors nominated by Air Products at its 2014 shareholder meeting in January.

Air Products named Ghasemi, Edward L. Monser, chief operating officer of Emerson Electric, and Matthew Paull, a former chief financial officer of McDonald's (MCD), to replace three directors that retired at the end of 2013.

Move Value to Come?

At the Harbor Investment Conference, Ackman said Air Products could be worth more than $200 a share in three year's time if it was run by a strong CEO. "We've seen this movie before with Canadian Pacific (CP)," Ackman said in February, referring to one of Pershing Square's most successful activist investments.

Air Products next CEO could drive expense efficiencies that might improve the company's bottom line and garner a higher valuation in public stock marketsm, Ackman said at the conference. Stock gains would likely hinge on a new CEO closing a performance gap between Air Products and its closest competitor Praxair (PX - Get Report), he added, while acknowledging some structural differences between the two competing chemicals companies.

Air Products has gained more than 16% year to date, significantly outperforming broader markets on growing investor optimism about the company's strategic positioning. Over the past 12 months, shares of Air Products have gained nearly 35% when excluding quarterly dividend payments.

"Seifi is a highly respected and dynamic leader with a strong track record of delivering superior shareholder returns and financial performance," Evert Henkes, presiding director of the Air Products board, said in a Wednesday statement.

"Air Products has benefited greatly from his insights and guidance on the Board, and we are pleased that his significant skills will continue to benefit Air Products' employees, shareholders, customers and communities as he works to accelerate the momentum in our business," he added, while also acknowledging outgoing CEO McGlade's 40 years of service at the company.

Separately, Rockwood Holdings said on Wednesday it appointed Chief Financial Officer Robert J. Zatta to run the company starting on July 1 as it begins a search process. Ghasemi will retain his chairmanship at Rockwood through Jan. 1, and serve as a a board director thereafter.

Wachtell Sees Threat in Ackman's Activism

Change Happened At Air Products Before Ackman Entered

Platform Specialty Products Emerges As a Dealmaker

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York.

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