Orange’s Richard Says Board Won’t Look for Change of Chief

Orange SA Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard said the company’s board won’t look for a change in leadership when his mandate expires in May.

“There is no desire for change internally, within the company,” Richard told Bloomberg after a press conference today in Paris. “I think it’s the same for the board.”

The board of Orange, France’s largest phone company, is slated to meet on March 26 to draft a preliminary version of resolutions that shareholders will vote on May 27, during the annual general meeting -- among them, the possibility of extending Richard’s time as chief.

Richard, who was charged with fraud linked to his time at the French finance ministry five years ago, survived a board vote in June over his leadership. The 52-year-old executive yesterday was heard by a French court in the case alongside former French Finance Minister and current International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde.

Paris-based Orange’s 15-member board includes two administrators named by the state and a representative of government-owned investment fund BpiFrance, as well as three representatives for workers and one for shareholder-employees. Richard himself and independent members including astronaut Claudie Haignere make up the rest of the board.

The state holds 27 percent of the former government-owned phone monopoly.

Richard was brought in to head Orange in March 2010 to deal with a series of employee suicides that unions linked to a re-organization under his predecessor Didier Lombard. After coping with the social tensions, Richard has faced the challenges of France’s phone market.

Sliding Revenue

Richard is trying to stem a slide in revenue at Orange amid price wars and a push to consolidate the market. Vivendi SA agreed last week to start exclusive talks about merging its SFR phone business with billionaire Patrick Drahi’s Numericable Group, turning down a rival offer from Bouygues SA.

Shares of Orange have fallen about 42 percent under Richard’s tenure, compared to a 14 percent gain for the CAC 40 index in Paris.

A member of the French business and political elite, Richard made his personal fortune by participating in a leveraged buyout of Nexity SA, the property developer created from the real-estate assets of Generale des Eaux.

He was charged in a case involving an arbitration that benefited a businessman-supporter of former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Richard, who was Lagarde’s chief of staff when the Bernard Tapie arbitration decision was made, has denied the fraud charges.

Born in Cauderan in southwestern France, he graduated from France’s elite Grandes Ecoles, like top executives at several large companies in France. He attended the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration.

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