EXCLUSIVE JDD. The new leader of Orange speaks for the first time since her appointment

21:35, May 21, 2022, modified at 11:57, May 22, 2022

Former Alcatel and Schneider Electric, this 47-year-old X-Ponts spent five years on the board of directors of Orange, co-opted by his predecessor, Stéphane Richard. Christel Heydemann took over as CEO on April 4, while the new president, Jacques Aschenbroich (Valeo), was appointed on May 19. She answers exclusively to the questions of 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 spent getting to know the teams, in France and abroad.

Orange is a well-known brand here, but how is it perceived by employees in other countries?
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, business market and cybersecurity.

Beyond speeches and fashions, mixing talents promotes success

On a personal note, how are you enjoying your new role?
With a lot of motivation and a lot of energy! Collectively facing technological challenges with human problems in mind is, in my opinion, the most exciting thing. It happens at all levels, both individual and collective. And it is based on competencies, on professions such as 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 Orange board made the choice, I didn’t hesitate.

What aspects of your career prepared you?
I started as a salesperson, also in a company, Alcatel, where technology also played an important 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 the technology and the speed of the cycles because of the disorders it generates. My time in human resources taught me the fundamental importance of teams. And that of the elections: how do we know who will be successful in this or that function? You have to work long term. Focus on diversity and inclusion. Beyond speeches and fads, mixing talents promotes success. Diversity is an essential performance factor. A huge reserve of efficiency.

Few women in France are at the head of large groups. Is there a specific management style for women?
We probably don’t expect certain behaviors from a woman, due to cognitive biases. Perhaps they are asked more to replicate models, while as a leader it seems to me that first you have to be yourself.

Almost 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?
In fact, the reality is 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. Rates are going down, while our investments to roll out networks are going up. But Orange has strong assets: its networks, its employees, its balance sheet and buoyant markets.

Where is the copper outlet?
The end of the copper network in France is a big project that will be completed in 2030. We are experimenting with cities that are 100% fiber. Operators, local authorities and the regulator work together. This is a considerable change for Orange, felt by most of the employees. At the same time, the deployment of fiber continues, which is much more efficient in terms of energy consumption. Almost 30 million French households are eligible.

The main Internet groups, the Gafam, are large consumers of infrastructure. Many operators ask to get involved. Do you share this opinion?
The Gafam occupy 55% of world traffic. The telecommunications 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 field, 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 needed. 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?
Whenever we can, we play the consolidation card. Carrying out operations with other local players, such as in Romania, Belgium or Spain. Too many players in a market hamper investments in the infrastructures of tomorrow, while the explosion of traffic in the coming years will be immense: the health crisis has accelerated uses and this trend will become even more accentuated.

Orange has been going through difficulties in Spain for several years. You’re going to stay there?
The Spanish market was a relay of growth, 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. Unlike. In March we began exclusive negotiations with the operator MasMovil. We want to create a player that has the economic capacity to continue investing in the networks, with offers at the right price and that meets the quality expectations of the Spanish consumer.

For the first time, the group has a tandem in the lead. How does it work ?
We form a solid and complementary couple. Jacques Aschenbroich is a renowned businessman whose experience in corporate governance is well established. They will all play the part of it. I do not want a president who assumes the role of general manager. On the contrary, Jacques would not like me to assume the role of president for him. We share this vision and I believe it is one of the keys to our success.

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