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Veolia CEO Said to Face Challenge at Board Meeting Within Days

Veolia Environnement CEO Antoine Frerot
Antoine Frerot, chief executive officer of Veolia Environnement SA, arrives to attend the company's results news conference in Paris, France, on March 1, 2012. Photographer: Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg

Veolia Environnement SA Chief Executive Officer Antoine Frerot may face a challenge to his leadership in the coming days, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Veolia’s board of directors may be asked to back him or support a potential replacement, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. David Azema, head of the agency that manages state holdings in companies, has been approached to replace him, they said.

The board meets Feb. 26 to discuss 2013 results and Frerot’s position could be discussed then, said the people.

Veolia’s second-biggest shareholder, Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault, which is represented on the board, is seeking the removal of Frerot, one of the people said. Dassault holds 6 percent of the Paris-based water utility. The state is the largest investor through investment bank Caisse des Depots et Consignations and will play a decisive role, said the people.

Officials at Veolia and Caisse de Depots declined to comment. Dassault representatives didn’t return repeated calls seeking comment.

Veolia is Europe’s second-biggest waste and water company by market value, behind Suez Environnement.

At a news conference Feb. 6, Frerot didn’t reply directly when asked how long he plans to remain in his position, saying his “vision for the company goes beyond April.” His term as a director expires that month.

Survived Challenge

Frerot, 55, survived a challenge to his leadership in February 2012 and pushed through changes to the board and top management. Veolia has met or exceeded targets for debt reduction, asset sales and cost cuts under a plan to make the utility more profitable, Frerot said Feb. 6.

The utility is scheduled to publish results Feb. 27.

Le Point magazone first reported Dassault’s desire to oust Frerot on Feb. 13, without giving any indication of timing.

Azema, who heads the Agence des Participations de l’Etat, was involved in talks on the future of PSA Peugeot Citroen, where the French state and Chinese investor Dongfeng Motor Corp. will acquire stakes in the carmaker.

He is also a director at state-controlled Electricite de France SA, which reached an agreement with Veolia last year to split their energy services venture, Dalkia. EDF, headed by former Veolia CEO Henri Proglio, took Veolia to court over the ownership of Dalkia before the deal was reached.

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