Dieter Kurz, 52, will succeed next Jan. 1 Peter Grassmann as CEO of Carl Zeiss, presiding over an enlarged management board. A physicist, Kurz had joined Zeiss in 1979 as a project manager. He became a member of the management board at the beginning of last year.

As reported, Grassmann had announced that he would leave the company on Dec. 31, at the end of his management contract. Grassmann took on the job of turning around Zeiss in 1995, when it was losing more than 100 million DM a year. Criticized by the unions for his heavy-handed management style, he cut off 20 weak operations, made successful investments on semiconductor technology, and focused group strategy on 4 high-growth markets: microelectronics, biotechnology, eyewear and industrial measurement.

A durable turnaround has now been accomplished, according to the management. In the 9 months ended last June 30, the group reached a net profit of about 125 million DM (e63.9m-$58.3m), representing a margin of 4.5 percent and a return of 10 percent on employed capital, but the management is aiming for a 17 percent return.

The forecast for the whole fiscal year is a profit of 155 million DM (e79.2m-$72.3m) , as compared to 36 million DM in the past year, before extraordinary items. Manpower costs have been cut from 43 to 40 percent of sales.

The 20 percent sales increase for the first 9 months is double the originally budgeted rate. It's led by gains of 57 percent in semiconductors and 29 percent in opto-electronic systems. Eyewear products are up 14 percent, and the positive order intake in this sector has led Zeiss to hire about 150 additional employee in the manufacture of lenses. Microscopes are up 18 percent, medical technology up 13 percent, and industrial measurement up 8 percent.