It is 6 p.m., this Wednesday, November 24, when Stéphane Richard, dark suit and black mask, air closed, joins a board of directors convened in the middle of the day, at the Orange headquarters. The same morning, the CEO of the first French operator was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 euros by the Paris Court of Appeal for ” complicity in public misappropriation In the arbitration case which had allowed Bernard Tapie to obtain 403 million euros.
The great fatigue of Stéphane Richard, the king of Orange
If he announced in the wake of appeal, the one who has been director at Orange for twelve years now prefers to throw in the towel. At the council, at midday, he announced by e-mail to hand over his mandate – to understand to resign. This Wednesday evening, the entire council accepted this resignation, and organize the terms of his replacement. The presidency and the general management should be separated, and Stéphane Richard will remain in the interim, at the latest until January 31, 2022.
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” It was a shock for us at Orange », Confirms Sébastien Crozier, president of the majority union CFE-CGC Orange, present on the board.
It prevents. Even before his conviction, the boss no longer smelled of holiness with the operator. Although it was able to appease Orange after the “suicide crisis” and make it the number one operator in France by the quality of its network, it missed several strategic turns (big data, cloud, etc.), missed development internationally and failed to diversify the company. Worse, several attempts by the group have turned out to be failures (the takeover of Dailymotion, the home system for Smartphones, the Djingo smart speaker, and soon perhaps mobile banking). An unconvincing strategy, so much so that Orange’s stock price has stagnated for ten years.
Long negotiations in sight
More recently, he was the target of government criticism after the breakdown of the telephone network which made all emergency numbers inaccessible – at least five deaths then occurred due to the lack of being able to reach 15, 18 or 112. He was also at odds with the unions, which were its main support, and who form a united front against the management after further budget cuts and the announcement of 7,500 jobs being abolished in France – with the objective of one billion euros savings by 2023. “He’s had his day! “, then told us in chorus – but on condition of anonymity – executives, trade unionists and financial analysts.
On the side of the government, very silent lately, the conviction of this Wednesday let escape a discreet slogan: ” We would like him to leave by the end of the year », We say to Europe 1. In 2018, the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire was clear about BFM: “For all public enterprises [l’Etat est le premier actionnaire d’Orange] who are under my responsibility as minister, the rules of the game must be clear: if the leader is condemned, the leader leaves immediately. “
Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange
The time for the handover has therefore come. In recent weeks, the firm of headhunter Spencer Stuart has been reflecting on future governance. If everything is not yet formally recorded, the management of Orange should move towards a split between a chairman on one side, and a CEO on the other.
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For these two positions, many avenues are explored. Internally, the names of Fabienne Dulac, the current director of Orange France, Ramon fernandez, the financial director and former treasurer, Michael Trabbia, responsible for innovation, and Francois Fallacher, director of Orange in Spain. Outside, the ambitions of Nicolas Dufourcq, the boss of Bpifrance, are common knowledge. We also evoke Delphine Ernotte, his ex-deputy part of France Télévisions, Alexandre bompard, current boss of Carrefour, and Barbara dalibard, Chairman of the Michelin Supervisory Board.
” Everything is still open, but certainly there will not be two internal appointments, slides a source close to the current direction. There could be a CEO appointed internally, and a chairman externally, or perhaps both externally. Likewise, if a CEO is found before the president, then Stéphane [Richard] will entrust him with the management but will remain president at most until January 31. “
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All these negotiations will still take time. With these decisions, the board of Orange in any case imposes its tempo on the State, still the operator’s largest shareholder.