Bruno Le Maire had warned. As early as 2018, the Minister of the Economy had assured that in the event of a conviction in the 2008 arbitration case between Bernard Tapie and Credit Lyonnais, Stéphane Richard could no longer remain at the helm of Orange. This Wednesday, November 24, in the evening, after an extraordinary board of directors (CA), the CEO of the telecoms group since 2011 has therefore not really had a choice. Shortly after 6 p.m., he handed in his resignation, which was accepted by the directors.
Everything accelerated in the morning, after the decision of the Paris Court of Appeal which sentenced the former chief of staff of Christine Lagarde, then Minister of the Economy, to one year in prison suspended and 50,000 euros fine. “He committed serious acts by privileging the interests of Bernard Tapie to the detriment of those of the State and of the public finances which he was in charge of defending”, tackled the president of the court of appeal, by evoking “Occult acts”. The 60-year-old business manager was found guilty of complicity in the embezzlement of public property when he was released at first instance in the summer of 2019.
The state did not want it to be maintained
The holding of this extraordinary Board of Directors had been set as of October 6, with, in essence, only one agenda: the future of Stéphane Richard at the head of Orange. “When you are a serious company and your CEO is under the influence of a court decision, you must anticipate, confided in the afternoon an administrator. Either it is cleared, and the AC is evacuated in five minutes. Either he is doomed, and you have to draw the consequences. “
And the result was not in doubt. “He is a man of honor, he will want to resign directly without being put out,” confided at midday a senior official from Bercy. Even if, in fact, his effective departure will take place a week or fifteen days after the CA. “
It must be said that the State, the largest shareholder of Orange, which holds nearly 23% of the capital and 30% of the voting rights, had warned: “If it wants to remain at the head of Orange, the State will vote against ”, assured, a few hours before the board of directors, an executive of the Ministry of the Economy. In short, despite the announcement of his power in cassation which suspends the conviction of the Court of Appeal, his fate was sealed.
“This time the transition must take place peacefully”
A conviction and a resignation that will leave traces within a company where more than 130,000 people work. “The employees are in shock, it’s astonishment,” says Sébastien Crozier, president of CFE-CGC, the company’s first union. We did not expect such a decision. Even if we can regret his very financial strategy of recent years, Stéphane Richard, for Orange employees, is the CEO of social reconciliation after what we experienced before his arrival. An allusion to the wave of suicides that affected the company between 2008 and 2010.
It now remains to calmly organize his succession. “It’s been over twenty-five years since Marcel Roulet (from 1990 to 1995 at the head of France Telecom, former name of Orange) that we did not have a correct departure from a CEO of the company, notes, bitterly, the trade unionist. This time, the transition must take place peacefully ”.
A wish heard by the board of directors who decided that the resignation of Stéphane Richard would be effective no later than January 31, 2022, the time to put in place a new governance. “We need a true industry boss, insists Sébastien Crozier. Someone from outside to breathe new life. “
A task that has been under way for several months, since the company had planned for 2022 to separate the functions of managing director and chairman of the board of directors. In this new organization, Stéphane Richard hoped to keep the chairmanship of the board while a new CEO was sought. “We must now find two names, summarizes an administrator. It is all the more difficult that by combining the two functions, Stéphane Richard emerges from only 1.6 million euros per year. Either one of the worst paid bosses of the CAC 40. “
Three others condemned by the Court of Appeal
In this Tapie – Credit Lyonnais case, three other men were sentenced on Wednesday. Two of them were found guilty of fraud: one of the three arbitrators in the case, Pierre Estoup, 95, sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 300,000 euros, and the historic lawyer of Bernard Tapie, Maurice Lantourne who was given three years in prison including two years suspended and 300,000 euros fine. Jean-François Rocchi, former president of an entity responsible for managing the liabilities of Crédit Lyonnais, was for his part sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 25,000 euros.
Finally, if for Bernard Tapie, who died on October 3, the prosecutions were, in fact, extinguished, the Court did not spare him. She considered that he had “committed a civil fault” by “activating his political support and by mandating his lawyer to put pressure on the opposing party”.