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Puma CEO steps down as PPR steps in

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German sportswear maker Puma said chief executive Franz Koch was to leave in March, part of an ongoing shake-up as it tries to catch rivals such as Adidas and Nike .

Puma is frantically cutting costs, reducing its product range and trimming management following a profit warning over the summer after customers in its main markets in Europe held back on purchases of sports shoes and t-shirts.

Wednesday's announcement of 33-year-old Koch's exit came 11 days after Jean-Francois Palus from controlling shareholder PPR took over as chairman of the supervisory board from former CEO Jochen Zeitz who had headed Puma for 18 years.

Puma, 82.4 percent controlled by the French luxury goods group, said Koch would work with new chairman Palus, also PPR group managing director, until he left.

"We will pursue the reorganization of the company, focus on product innovation and marketing, and will continue to devote the necessary resources to the development of the brand," he said on Wednesday.

Palus said Puma hoped to hire a new CEO by the spring. A graduate of HEC business school and a former Arthur Andersen consultant, Palus is seen by analysts as a pragmatic, hands-on manager.

PPR has said Puma was not spending enough on products, which has seen it lag rivals in bringing out new high-tech running and soccer shoes.

"This is the closing chapter on Zeitz's legacy. They are starting all over," said one sector analyst who wished to remain anonymous, adding the move was not a surprise following PPR's criticism of the marketing strategy.

Puma shares were down 0.3 percent at 0930 GMT.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Victoria Bryan; Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Editing by Dan Lalor)

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