France Telecom replaces deputy CEO

In what looks like a bid to alleviate concerns over the number of suicides taking place among employees of French incumbent France Telecom, the carrier has replaced its number two executive.

In a statement issued on Monday, France Telecom said Louis-Pierre Wenes, the deputy CEO of French operations, has asked CEO Didier Lombard to relieve him of his responsibilities.

Wenes request has been accepted and as of Monday, Stephane Richard has been appointed deputy CEO in charge of operations in France.

Richard is already CEO designate, and analysts note that this move should be viewed as acceptable to management and investors, as well as a way of pacifying press, labour and political elements.

Michael Kovacocy, telecoms analyst and sector strategist for Daiwa Securities, said the move leaves the current CEO in post and avoids damaging or destabilising change at France Telecom. ”Hopefully this will draw a line under this issue and allow management to concentrate on its stated cost control objectives,” Kovacocy said.

A total of 24 France Telecom employees have committed suicide since February 2008, with the finger of blame pointed at the ‘atmosphere’ within the company caused by upheaval and a wide ranging restructuring process. The operator was privatised in 1998 but around two thirds of its workforce remain on civil service contracts. The company employs about 191,000 people, around half of which are outside of France.

According to the WHO, France’s national suicide rate (most recent stats from 1999) was 35.5 people per 100,000. So while the recent spate of suicides at the company are not above the national average, they will presumably lead to an overall spike in French suicide rates in 2009. France has a population of around 61 million.

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