At Orange, the choice of Stéphane Richard’s successors is accelerating

Posted on Nov 25, 2021, 6:41 PMUpdated Nov 25, 2021, 7:07 PM

The hunt will be short-lived. After the current CEO ofOrange, Stéphane Richard, resigned Wednesday evening – a few hours after his conviction on appeal in the Tapie case for complicity in the misappropriation of public property – the group’s board of directors met. Its fifteen members have given themselves two months to set up a new governance. Clearly, recruit the successor of Stéphane Richard. Or rather the successors, because the separation of the functions of chairman and managing director is recorded. We must therefore find two rare gems in a few weeks.

This race against time could have been even more stressful. According to our information, the three directors representing the State on the board pleaded for the departure of the leader at the end of the year. Minority unions even demanded his immediate ouster. But several independent directors, joined by employee representatives on the board, insisted on the contrary on the need to favor a smooth transition, so as not to further disrupt the company while the staff of Orange are in shock. Leaving Stéphane Richard in place, at the latest until the end of January, has emerged as the middle solution.

“It turns everything upside down”

The most difficult remains to be done. “It upsets the calendar. The advice was not ripe. It turns everything upside down, ”admitted Stéphane Richard himself during a meeting organized Thursday by the association of employee shareholders, AASGO. The recruitment firm Spencer Stuart had certainly already been commissioned. But so far, the board has only looked at recruiting a CEO.

The central assumption was indeed that Stéphane Richard would remain president of Orange at the end of his current mandate, which was to end in May 2022. It was therefore “just” necessary to find a “complementary” operational director – if possible a woman, of scientific training, young… This casting will not take place. It is now a pair that must be found.

A more open game

When it comes to recruiting a CEO, the game is more open than ever. The State shareholder did not hide, in recent months, its wish to bring new blood to Orange. But if he manages to recruit an external personality to take the chairmanship of the board, Bercy could take a more favorable view of internal candidates for general management, such as Fabienne Dulac (the boss of Orange France), Ramon Fernandez (the financial director), Michaël Trabbia (in charge of innovation) or Jean-François Fallacher, who heads the Spanish subsidiary.

Externally, several people have interesting profiles: Nicolas Dufourcq (the boss of the BPI who cut his teeth at Wanadoo), Delphine Ernotte (the president of France Télévisions, engineer with Orange), Michel Paulin (the former manager of SFR, which now operates the French unicorn OVHcloud), Vivek Badrinath (the boss of the gigantic Vodafone subsidiary in charge of telephone towers, X-Télécom also passed through Orange in its early days). Not to mention Alexandre Bompard (the boss of Carrefour, who led the digital transformation of the distribution group and sits on the Orange board of directors).

The salary question

As for the presidency, the choice will perhaps be less bloated. A manager should be found at the end of his career, ideally with knowledge of the technological sector, capable of representing the group outside and abroad. And which forms an effective duo with the CEO, like Jean-Dominique Senard and Luca de Meo at Renault.

In a way, Stéphane Richard had the ideal profile. Especially since it will also be necessary to resolve the issue of salary. That of Stéphane Richard as CEO reached 1.6 million euros in 2020, including the variable portion (570,000 euros) and the allocation of free shares (10,616). “You should not come to Orange for the money,” said Stéphane Richard Thursday to his employees, pointing to a salary three to four times lower than his peers. “A constraint” for recruitment, according to the current CEO.

By separating the functions, this sum will necessarily be divided between the chairman and the chief executive officer. It was certainly already planned to increase the total envelope. But maybe it will need to be inflated further in order to open as many doors as possible on a tight schedule.

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