Orange Chief Richard Offered Another Term by Carrier’s Board

Orange SA’s board members are offering Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard another term in the top job as France’s largest carrier navigates price wars and its French competitors discuss alliances.

Orange’s board yesterday drafted a preliminary set of resolutions that it will submit for shareholder approval during the Paris-based company’s annual general meeting on May 27. Among them is a proposal to extend 52-year-old Richard’s tenure as CEO, Orange said on its website.

Richard has said he wants to keep his job for another four-year mandate. The executive, brought in in March 2010 to deal with a series of employee suicides that unions linked to a re-organization under his predecessor Didier Lombard, has coped with social tensions and since turned to dealing with new challenges in France.

“I love this company, I love what I do and I can’t imagine for a second why I would want to stop,” Richard said in an interview in Paris in December. “You can’t lead a company this size with challenges like the ones we’re facing without having some continuity.”

Orange shares declined 0.3 percent to 10.24 euros at 9:06 in Paris. Before today, the stock had fallen about 42 percent under Richard’s tenure, compared with a 14 percent gain for the CAC 40 index in Paris.

Richard is trying to stem a slide in revenue at Orange amid price wars and a push to consolidate the market. Vivendi SA agreed this month to start exclusive talks about merging its SFR phone business with billionaire Patrick Drahi’s Numericable Group. Rival Bouygues SA has since made a sweetened bid.

Fraud Charges

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 executive last week appeared before a French court in the case alongside former Finance Minister and current International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde.

A member of the French business and political elite, Richard participated 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. He attended the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration.

Orange’s board members include representatives of the French state, which owns 27 percent of the former phone monopoly.

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