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Orange rubber-stamps Heydemann appointment as CEO

Christel Heydemann

As expected, French incumbent Orange has confirmed Christel Heydemann will take on the top job as CEO, albeit not just yet.

The telco’s board on Friday announced that the high-ranking Schneider Electric exec will officially become Orange’s new CEO on April 4. Until then, outgoing chairman and CEO Stephane Richard – who originally said he’d be off no later than the end of January – will instead stay on to ensure a smooth transition.

Heydemann’s appointment comes as little surprise. She already sits on Orange’s board, and recent, conveniently-timed leaks to the French press revealed in no uncertain terms that she has the backing of the French government, which is still a major shareholder. That approval may or may not have helped her to see off her rival candidates: Orange’s own finance chief Ramon Fernandez and Verizon’s chief revenue officer Frank Boulben. The latter was particularly unhappy at the government’s alleged intervention, asserting in a leaked email that it undermined the whole selection process.

Despite the acrimony, Orange insists it followed a rigorous process to find a new CEO. On Friday it said it brought in head-hunter Spencer Stuart to begin succession planning as early as last summer, several months before the Paris appeals court reached the verdict that made Richard’s position untenable.

“I would like to thank the board members for their confidence. As a member of the board for nearly five years, I have gained a solid understanding of the technological challenges and opportunities that lie before us. I know that these are significant, but it is equally a huge honour to be able to contribute to the development of one of the leading players in our industry and Orange will have my total commitment as we set about this task,” Heydemann said, in a statement. “I also know I can count, as my predecessor has been able to, on the dedication of all the company’s teams to see Orange through to success.”

As part of the succession planning, Orange’s board has opted to split the CEO and chairman roles. It has yet to find a candidate for the latter job, which means Richard will serve as non-executive chairman until then, stepping down from that position no later than May 19, when Orange is due to hold its AGM. Orange paid tribute to Richard and his 12-year stint as CEO, thanking him for restoring employee confidence and repositioning the group as a leading multi-service operator in Europe and Africa.

Meanwhile Richard wished Heydemann “full success” as CEO of Orange.

“Working alongside the group’s employees, I am convinced that her personal and professional qualities will enable her to meet the challenges the future holds for the group,” he said. “Christel’s involvement as a board member and her long experience at Alcatel and then Schneider Electric means she has an excellent understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the digital future and the critical role this will play in the decades ahead. I am certain that her vision, her pragmatism and her ability to bring out the best in every situation will be of enormous value to Orange.”

As if losing two jobs in one year wasn’t bad enough, it looks like Richard has lost a third. On Monday, the GSMA announced that it has elected Telefónica CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete to succeed Richard as its new board chair. His term begins in February, in time for Mobile World Congress, and runs until December.

It will be his job to steer the GSMA’s strategic direction, representing the interests of the world’s mobile operators as they continue their Sisyphean quest to generate revenue from services other than network access.

“Technologies like 5G, edge computing, cloud, cybersecurity, AI and IoT, have redefined the way society operates and interacts online, paving the way towards metaverse, web3 and a new digital era,” said a statement from Álvarez-Pallete. “However, increased digitisation must include responsible leadership to drive growth, job creation, sustainability, and accelerate digital inclusion. I look forward to supporting the GSMA drive these critical issues, and many others.”


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