9:35 p.m., May 21, 2022, modified at 11:57 a.m., May 22, 2022
Former of Alcatel and Schneider Electric, this 47-year-old X-Ponts sat for five years on the board of directors of Orange, co-opted by her predecessor, Stéphane Richard. Christel Heydemann took over as CEO on April 4, while the new Chairman, Jacques Aschenbroich (Valeo) was appointed on May 19. She responds exclusively to questions from the JDD.
What are your first impressions ? Your first initiatives?
I am happy to have joined Orange and its employees. It is part of the daily life of millions of customers. Thanks to my five years of presence on the board of directors, I did not have the feeling of fully discovering the group. My first weeks were devoted to meeting the teams, in France and abroad.
Orange is a well-known brand here, but how is it perceived in other countries by employees?
In Romania, Morocco, or elsewhere, everywhere I found an identical attachment to the company. It is one of our strengths. I also listened a lot: employees, customers and our partners to refine with the team our next strategic roadmap. We have many strengths and challenges, particularly in infrastructure, the business market and cybersecurity.
Beyond speeches and fashions, mixing talents promotes success
On a personal note, how are you enjoying your new role?
With great motivation and a lot of energy! Collectively meeting technological challenges while taking human issues into account is, in my opinion, the most exciting thing. It happens at all levels, both individual and collective. And is based on skills, on professions such as the internal culture.
Did you hesitate before leaving Schneider Electric?
Jean-Pascal Tricoire, chairman of the board, is a formidable leader. And I was in charge of a very important mission. It was logical for me to think before applying for this position. When the choice was made by the Orange board, I did not hesitate.
What aspects of your career prepared you?
I started out as a salesperson, moreover in a company – Alcatel – where technology also played a major role. And where Orange was one of my clients. I always wonder about the service provided to customers. I like to understand them. I like technology and the speed of the cycles due to the upheavals it generates. My time in human resources taught me the fundamental importance of teams. And that of choices: how do we know who will succeed in this or that function? You have to work for the long term. Focus on diversity and inclusion. Beyond speeches and fashions, mixing talents promotes success. Diversity is an essential factor of performance. A huge reservoir of efficiency.
Few women in France are at the head of large groups. Is there a specific management style for women?
We probably do not expect certain behaviors from a woman, because of cognitive biases. Perhaps they are asked more to replicate models, whereas as a leader, it seems to me that you have to be yourself first.
Nearly 30 million French households are eligible for fiber
Orange, like most of its European competitors, faces a difficult equation in terms of profitability, given the number of operators. How to solve it?
The reality is indeed radically different in the United States or China, with only three telecom operators in each of these two countries, instead of 90 in Europe. We absolutely do not live in the same world. Tariffs are being pulled down, while our investments to deploy networks are increasing. But Orange has strong assets: its networks, its employees, its balance sheet and buoyant markets.
Where is the copper output?
The end of the copper network in France is a major project that will be completed in 2030. We are conducting experiments with cities that are 100% fiber. Operators, local authorities and the regulator work together. This is a considerable shift for Orange, felt by a majority of employees. At the same time, the deployment of fibre, which is much more efficient in terms of energy consumption, is continuing. Nearly 30 million French households are eligible.
The major Internet groups, the Gafam, are major infrastructure consumers. Many operators ask that they be involved. Do you share this opinion?
The Gafam occupy 55% of global traffic. The telecoms sector is ultra-regulated, while theirs, little or not at all. We are therefore very receptive to the initiatives of the European Commission in this area, because investing billions of euros in infrastructures whose value is mainly absorbed by other players complicates the equation of our entire industry. A rebalancing is necessary. It would be consistent for the Gafam to participate more.
With Jacques Aschenbroich, we form a solid and complementary duo
Is a decrease in the number of operators in Europe possible?
Wherever we can, we play the consolidation card. By carrying out operations with other local players, such as in Romania, Belgium or Spain. Too many players on a market weighs on investments in the infrastructures of tomorrow, while the explosion in traffic in the years to come will be immense: the health crisis has accelerated uses and this trend will be further accentuated.
Orange has been experiencing difficulties for several years in Spain. Are you going to stay there?
The Spanish market was a growth relay, which has become very fragmented and low cost, where customers very often change operators depending on the offers. We are not going to withdraw from it. On the contrary. In March, we started exclusive negotiations with the operator MasMovil. We want to create a player that will have the financial capacity to continue investing in the networks, with offers at the right price and that will meet the quality expectations of the Spanish consumer.
For the first time, the group has a tandem at its head. How does it work ?
We form a solid and complementary pair. Jacques Aschenbroich is a recognized entrepreneur, whose expertise in corporate governance is well established. Everyone will play their part. I do not want a president who takes on the role of general manager. Conversely, Jacques would not like me to take on his role as president. We share this vision and I think it is one of the keys to our success.
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