Who to succeed Stéphane Richard at the head of Orange? “The will is not to do an interim”

At the head of the historical operator since 2011, Stéphane Richard will remain in place until January 31 at the latest, while his mandate ran until mid-2022 and he imagined himself continuing in the costume of president group by releasing the operational levers.

This period of a few weeks should allow time to audition the candidates to take over and “put in place the new governance” of the company, on which the State, the largest shareholder with more than 20% of the capital, will necessarily have a say.

“We are more in favor of players outside the company to bring new blood, a vision that allows us to have technical profiles”, explains Sébastien Crozier, president of CFE-CGC Orange, the group’s first union, to AFP. “You necessarily need someone who (also) has an international dimension, where the group carries out a large part of its activity. There are not many internal profiles that tick both boxes.”

A reshuffle at the top of the pyramid

Several external profiles are already mentioned, such as Nicolas Dufourcq, current director of the public investment bank Bpifrance and formerly of France Telecom, Alexandre Bompard, CEO of Carrefour and director of Orange, or Delphine Ernotte, who moved to Orange before taking on the presidency of France Télévisions, according to several sources.

Among the internal candidates, the names of Ramon Fernandez, deputy managing director, Fabienne Dulac, boss of the operator in France, or the polytechnicians Michaël Trabbia, in charge of innovation, and Jean-François Fallacher, at the head of ‘Orange Spain, are also mentioned.

“It must be someone who knows our field, who wants to renew the social dialogue with the employees. We think that it will undoubtedly be one of the current directors. We understood that the desire was not to make an interim “, forecast Frédéric Pelletier, federal secretary of the CFDT in charge of Orange.

A scenario studied for several months is almost certain: the separation of the functions of chairman and managing director for the next term.

Several groups in which the State is a shareholder have set up such governance, such as Renault, after the departure of Carlos Ghosn, or Engie, where Gérard Mestrallet went in 2016 from CEO to non-executive chairman.

Present in 26 countries around the world, Orange is a behemoth that employs more than 140,000 people, including more than 80,000 in France, and achieved a turnover of 42.27 billion euros in 2020.

Real challenges to take up

But the challenges to be met are many in the times to come.

The stock market price is struggling, the activities are not valued as hoped by the previous management and the growth drivers, apart from Africa and cybersecurity, are few, despite an intense diversification strategy (bank, cloud , energy …).

“The stakes for the next tandem are first and foremost a strategy of conquest because the financial policy of paying the dividend, without taking any risk, is nonetheless wearing out for the company”, warns Sébastien Crozier.

“The issues, beyond who will replace him, is what strategy, what policy will be put in place? Today, with the ‘Engage 2025’ plan, we are more on a financial than an industrial level”, supports Cédric Carvalho of CGT FAPT Orange.

Among the other strategic challenges: the development of telecoms networks, the group’s core business in France. The 4G network has yet to be completed in sparsely populated areas, 5G is in its infancy, and fiber deployment is due to be completed in 2025.

Orange will also have to manage the transition of its copper network, used by traditional landline telephones and ADSL internet, to fiber by 2030.

An economic and social issue closely followed by the government, while this copper network still remains the only source of access to the telephone network for several million French people.

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