France Telecom CEO steps down over staff suicides
Didier Lombard will step down as CEO a year earlier than planned following a spate of suicides at France Telecom.Paris – France Telecom chief executive Didier Lombard, under pressure after a rash of suicides at the former state monopoly, will hand over the company reins to his deputy on 1 March, the group announced on Monday.
Lombard will keep his position as chairman of the board until early 2011 but will stand down as CEO one year earlier than scheduled, France Telecom said in a statement, ending weeks of rumours about his fate.
"Didier Lombard, France Telecom chief executive, has decided to propose to the company's board meeting on 24 February to separate the jobs of chairman and chief executive from 1 March 2010," the statement said.
"Stephane Richard, current deputy chief executive, will become chief executive in charge of the group's operations," it said.
Richard, formerly a top aide to Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, became deputy chief executive on 1 January after joining France Telecom as chief of international operations in 2009.
He had taken over for Louis-Pierre Wenes, the architect of the modernisation drive and Lombard's right-hand man, who stepped down in 2009 after unions called for his resignation.
Lombard, who has led the company since February 2005, had come under criticism for his handling of a crisis that hit staff morale and led to a spate of suicides in the past two years.
In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper online, the outgoing chief executive expressed regret over his handling of the suicides and said his decision to step aside was for the good of the former state monopoly.
"My decision was taken in the interest of the group," he was quoted as saying on Le Figaro's website. "With Stephane Richard, we will join efforts to provide the impetus that the employees expect."
Asked if he had any regrets, the company boss pointed to the suicides, saying: "Of course, above all, not being able to avoid the social crisis."
"I should certainly have acted earlier," he said, adding that steps the company took in October to boost morale should probably have been implemented two months earlier.
France Telecom unions say 35 employees committed suicide over two years.
Union representatives welcomed Lombard's decision to stand down.
"It's a good thing," said CFDT representative Pierre Dubois. "We need a clean break."
Europe's leading internet provider and third biggest mobile operator has undergone major restructuring to confront growing competition.
Although the suicide rate at France Telecom is lower than the French average, many of the employees have left notes blaming management decisions or stress at work.
Lombard said he would focus on his "passions", strategy and technology, until his term as chairman runs out next year.
"The crisis that shook us in 2009, me first, is easing. The different social works are moving ahead because dialogue with the unions is constructive," he said. "The atmosphere is positive."
AFP / Expatica