PARIS (Reuters) – Orange on Friday named Christel Heydemann its new chief executive, making her the first woman to lead France’s biggest telecoms operator amid a revamp of its governance.
A former graduate of France’s elite engineering school Polytechnique, 47-year-old Heydemann will replace Stephane Richard from April 4 at the helm of the state-controlled group after a court convicted him of complicity of misuse of public funds.
Richard, who has led Orange for the past 12 years, denies any wrongdoing.
Heydemann becomes the third woman appointed to lead a company listed on the French CAC 40 index, after Engie’s Catherine MacGregor and Estelle Brachlianoff, who is set to take the reins of utility group Veolia on July 1.
She comes from Schneider Electric, where she led European operations for the French electric equipment group.
Heydemann said that, as an Orange board member for nearly five years, she had gained a “solid understanding of the technological challenges” facing Orange.
“It is equally a huge honour to be able to contribute to the development of one of the leading players in our industry,” she said in a statement.
Richard was initially slated to quit the telecoms group on Monday, but Orange’s board voted to maintain him as chairman until the company’ shareholder meeting on May 19 at the latest. He will also continue to run operations until April 4.
Richard is also to be replaced as non-executive chairman of the group, as the group is also splitting the roles CEO and chairman of the board.
“Very happy to welcome Christel Heydemann, future CEO of Orange. A woman with professional and human qualities that will allow her to meet the group’s challenges with the help of our main wealth: our teams worldwide,” Richard tweeted on Friday.
Shares in Orange were trading up 0.11% at 1131 GMT.
Heydemann will take the reins of the company as it keeps on deploying the new generation of internet mobile networks and broadband fibre optic infrastructure – capital-heavy investments that have pressured its margins as its two biggest markets, France and Spain, remain highly competitive.
(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Ingrid Melander, Gwladys Fouche and David Evans)