France Telecom Unveils Plan for 300 Million Clients

France Telecom SA unveiled a five-year plan to win clients, revive morale and put Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard’s stamp on the company.

The four-part program is designed to raise France Telecom’s customer base to 300 million by 2015, from almost 200 million now, Richard told reporters in Paris. The plan includes a mix of new and previously announced goals, including a doubling of revenue from emerging markets and a 2 billion-euro ($2.5 billion) investment in the domestic fiber network.

France Telecom’s new direction follows a series of suicides that rocked the company and hastened the replacement of former CEO Didier Lombard. In April, Richard said the company would spend as much as 7 billion euros on deals in Africa and the Middle East to boost emerging-markets growth.

“We will rediscover the strategic importance of networks in the years to come,” Richard said. At the same time, the Paris-based company will try to revive a “spirit of conquest” in international activities while avoiding “transformative” deals, he said.

France Telecom plans to recruit about 10,000 new employees between now and 2012, part of a “new social contract” that will cost about 900 million euros during the period, the company said in a statement.

France Telecom climbed 1.2 percent to 14.37 euros in Paris.

Workplace Stress

At least 37 France Telecom employees have taken their own lives since January 2008, prompting the company to suspend some restructuring plans, reconsider the closure of small offices, and introduce a part-time work plan for older staff. Unions blamed workplace stress for the deaths.

“The new team should be particularly attentive that new guidelines are perceived as real and concrete by staff,” the CFE-CGC/UNSA union federation said today in an e-mailed statement. After a loss of confidence by workers, “it will take time to get it back,” the union said.

Richard today said the company plans to look for partnerships with producers of digital content to “make a contribution to the stabilization of content and the search for a new economic model.” France Telecom last month lost out in a competition to buy Le Monde, France’s newspaper of record, after it allied with the Nouvel Observateur magazine for a controlling stake.

The company isn’t currently in talks to purchase stakes in other papers such as La Tribune, Richard said.

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