The Tapie affair finally got the better of him. CEO of Orange since 2011, Stéphane Richard will let go of the controls of the historical operator, after his conviction on Wednesday November 24 in the controversial arbitration case between Bernard Tapie and Crédit Lyonnais, paving the way for a battle for his succession. His term as head of the group initially came to an end in mid-2022. His departure “will be effective from the establishment of a new governance and no later than January 31, 2022”, announced the company, adding that Stéphane Richard continued to exercise his functions until his departure.
If he had formulated the “personal wish” to remain chairman of the group at the end of his third term, by relinquishing the function of managing director, his ambition was shattered by his conviction by the Paris Court of Appeal to one year of suspended imprisonment and a 50,000 euro fine. In 2018, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, warned that in the event of conviction, Stéphane Richard would have to hand over his mandate, while the French telecoms giant has the State as its main shareholder, with more than 20% of capital.
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“For all public companies that are under my responsibility as Minister of the Economy, the rules of the game must be clear: if the leader is condemned, the leader leaves immediately,” Bruno Le Maire said.
Guilty of complicity in the misappropriation of public property
Despite a record marked in particular by the appeasement of the social climate and “the suicide crisis”, since his appointment as CEO in June 2010 and CEO in February 2011, Stéphane Richard has seen his position become untenable.
After a general acquittal in July 2019, the court of appeal ruled on Wednesday that the arbitration, which had awarded 403 million euros to Bernard Tapie and has since been canceled in civil proceedings, was indeed “fraudulent” in that it was biased towards the interests of the businessman.
Stéphane Richard, 60, who was at the time chief of staff to the Minister of the Economy Christine Lagarde, was found guilty of complicity in the misappropriation of public property. He “betrayed the confidence” of Christine Lagarde by “his occult actions”, declared the president of the court, Sophie Clément. “The damage suffered by the State is immense because of the sums embezzled and the discredit that the behavior of the defendant threw on the public service”.
“Charges (…) without any foundation” and “based on no evidence”, denounced Stéphane Richard, who announced an appeal in cassation.
Battle for his succession
The announcement of his scheduled departure from the head of Orange paves the way for a battle for his succession. Several external profiles have already been mentioned to replace him, such as Nicolas Dufourcq, current director of the public investment bank Bpifrance and formerly of France Telecom, Alexandre Bompard, CEO of Carrefour, or even Delphine Ernotte, who moved to Orange before taking the chairmanship of France Télévisions, according to several sources.[display-posts orderby="rand"]
Among the internal candidates, the names of Ramon Fernandez, Deputy Managing Director, Fabienne Dulac, boss of the operator in France, Michaël Trabbia, in charge of innovation, and Jean-François Fallacher, at the head of Orange Spain, are also cited.
A scenario studied for several months is almost certain: the separation of the functions of chairman and managing director for the next term. “It is a constant doctrine of the State” in companies where it is a major shareholder, had explained to AFP Sébastien Crozier of the CFE-CGC (first union of Orange), referring to the examples of Renault after the departure of Carlos Ghosn or Gérard Mestrallet, passed in 2016 from CEO to non-executive chairman at Engie.
Present in 26 countries around the world, the Orange group, which employs more than 140,000 people, including more than 80,000 in France, achieved a turnover of 42.27 billion euros in 2020.
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