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Orange to Create New Board Role to Counterbalance CEO Richard

Orange SA’s board will name one of its existing members in a new lead independent director role after France’s largest phone company holds its annual shareholders’ meeting at the end of this month.

The new position, which will act as counterbalance to Stephane Richard holding both the chairman and chief executive officer roles, is aimed at preventing conflicts of interest, Sebastien Audra, a spokesman for Paris-based Orange, said by telephone.

Orange, which has France as its largest shareholder with a stake of about 27 percent, also has representatives of the state among its board members.

The board in March drafted a preliminary set of resolutions that it will submit for shareholder approval during Orange’s annual general meeting on May 27. Among them is a proposal to extend 52-year-old Richard’s tenure as CEO.

Richard is trying to stem a slide in revenue at Orange amid price wars in France and a push to consolidate the market. Vivendi SA agreed last month to sell its SFR phone business to billionaire Patrick Drahi and his Numericable Group cable operator in a $23 billion deal.

That has raised questions about the future of rivals Bouygues SA and Iliad SA, Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg has said, while repeatedly calling for more consolidation in the country.

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