Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange since 2011, will step down at the end of January at the latest, after his conviction yesterday, Wednesday, November 24, in the controversial arbitration case between Bernard Tapie and Crédit Lyonnais, the group announced. in a press release, at the end of the meeting of its board of directors, which opened yesterday at 6 p.m.
It is a slightly anticipated departure, since his mandate at the head of the group initially came to an end in mid-2022, even if Stéphane Richard intended to run for a new position, at the end of his third mandate, that of president of the group, leaving the general management to another person. This ambition was shattered by his conviction by the Paris Court of Appeal to one year of suspended imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 euros.
His departure “Will be effective from the establishment of new governance and no later than January 31, 2022”, specified the company, adding that Stéphane Richard continued to exercise his functions until this departure.
Caught up in the past
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.
“For all the public enterprises which are under my responsibility as Minister of the Economy, the rules of the game must be clear: if there is a conviction of the manager, there is an immediate departure of the manager”, Bruno Le Maire said.
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.
“The accusations of complicity in the embezzlement of public funds are without merit and are not based on any evidence. I reject them totally and will appeal to the cassation “, he announced immediately.
Interviewed on France Inter this morning, Stéphane Richard hinted at his disappointment at having been caught up in an issue that was both very technical and political, where he had to make decisions imposed by political superiors.
Asked about these points, he also indicated that his greatest pride and success at the head of Orange was to have succeeded in rebuilding the dialogue and appeasing a society which had found fire and blood. Stéphane Richard, a graduate of HEC and ENA, indeed joined the Orange group in September 2009, then shaken by a violent reorganization and permanently marked by waves of suicides.
The time of appeasement
This appeasement that he was able to bring, and consolidate over his various positions and his rise within the group, of which he became CEO in June 2010, and finally CEO in February 2011, has contributed to his strong popularity at the Orange breast. So much so that the unions yesterday declared themselves divided on his future and possible departure.
“We have known presidents disembarked overnight for various crises: financial, social … We do not necessarily want to go through this period again”, declared Sébastien Crozier, president of CFE-CGC Orange (1st union in the group), on BFM Business, while the board of directors was held yesterday to decide the fate of the CEO.
He continued as follows:
“The staff are very grateful to Stéphane Richard for being the man of social reconciliation. […] It is the question of continuity that is posed. Each of the parties must undertake to take the decision that weakens the company as little as possible in the weeks and months to come ”.
Stéphane Richard, whose record is also more mixed in terms of innovation and conquering new markets, even if Orange has increased its position in Africa in particular, will therefore be leaving office soon. A decision he has never heard challenged, and which echoes what another union in the group, SUD-PTT, was hoping for.
This union judged yesterday, in a press release that Stéphane Richard “Must now resign from his duties as CEO of the Orange group”. SUD-PTT also indicated that its elected representative on the board of directors of the group would intervene in this direction during the meeting which was held yesterday at the end of the day. “Orange needs a new lease of life”, specified the union.
Now that the wounds are healed, Orange will have to set out again to conquer.