JDD EXCLUSIVE. New Orange leader speaks for the first time since his appointment

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

X-Ponts, 47, formerly of Alcatel and Schneider Electric, served on the board of Orange for five years, co-opted by her predecessor Stéphane Richard. Christel Heidemann took over as CEO on 4 April and new chairman Jacques Aschenbroch (Valeo) was appointed on 19 May. She only answers JDD questions.

What are your first impressions? What are your first initiatives?
I am happy to join Orange and its staff. It is part of the daily life of millions of customers. Thanks to my five years on the board, I didn’t feel like I had fully discovered the band. My first weeks were devoted to meetings with teams in France and abroad.

The Orange brand is well known here, but how is it perceived by employees in other countries?
Whether in Romania, Morocco, or anywhere else, I found the same attachment to the company. This is one of our strengths. I also listened a lot: employees, customers, and our partners, to work with the team to refine our next strategic roadmap. We have many strengths and challenges, especially in infrastructure, business market and cybersecurity.

In addition to speeches and fashion, a mixture of talents contributes to success.

On a personal note, how do you like your new role?
With a lot of motivation and a lot of energy! The collective solution of technological problems, taking into account human problems, in my opinion, is the most interesting. This happens at all levels, both individual and collective. And it is based on skills, on professions such as internal culture.

Did you have any doubts before leaving Schneider Electric?
Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman of the Board, is an outstanding 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 fell on the orange board, I didn’t hesitate.

What aspects of your career have prepared you?
I started as a salesperson, and at Alcatel, where technology also played a big role. And where Orange was one of my clients. I am always amazed by the service provided to customers. I like to understand them. I love technology and the speed of cycles because of the upheaval they cause. Working in HR has taught me the fundamental importance of teams. And choice: how do we know who will excel in a particular function? You must work for the long term. Focus on diversity and inclusion. In addition to speeches and fashion, a mixture of talents contributes to success. Variety is an important performance factor. Huge margin of efficiency.

Few women in France lead large groups. Is there a specific leadership style for women?
Probably, we do not expect a certain behavior from a woman due to cognitive distortions. Perhaps they are asked to copy models more, while as a leader it seems to me that you should be yourself first of all.

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 US or China: in each of these two countries there are only three telecom operators, and not 90, as in Europe. We absolutely do not live in the same world. Tariffs are coming down and our investment in network deployment is going up. But Orange has strong assets: networks, employees, balance sheet and dynamic markets.

Where is copper mining?
The end of the copper network in France is a major project to be completed in 2030. We are experimenting with 100% fiber cities. Operators, local authorities and the regulator work together. This is a significant shift for Orange and one that most employees are feeling. At the same time, fiber continues to be deployed, which is much more energy efficient. Nearly 30 million French households are eligible.

The main Internet groups, Gafam, are the main consumers of the infrastructure. Many operators are asking to be involved. Do you share this opinion?
Gafam account for 55% of the world’s traffic. The telecommunications sector is over-regulated and there is little or no regulation. Therefore, we are very receptive to the initiatives of the European Commission in this area, because the investment of billions of euros in infrastructure, the cost of which is mainly absorbed by other players, complicates the equation of our entire industry. Needs rebalancing. It would be consistent if Gafam participated more.

With Jacques Aschenbroch we form a strong and complementary duo.

Is it possible to reduce the number of operators in Europe?
Wherever we can, we play the consolidation card. Through transactions with other local players, for example in Romania, Belgium or Spain. Too many players in the market are weighing down investments in tomorrow’s infrastructure, while the traffic explosion in the coming years will be huge: the health crisis has accelerated usage, and this trend will further accelerate.

Orange has been struggling in Spain for several years now. Are you going to stay there?
The Spanish market has been a growth torch that has become very fragmented and low cost, with customers changing operators very frequently depending on offers. We’re not going to give it up. Against. In March, we started exclusive negotiations with the MasMoville operator. We want to create a player that is financially capable of continuing to invest in the network, with offers at the right price and that will meet the Spanish consumer’s quality expectations.

For the first time, a tandem is at the head of the group. How it works ?
We form a strong and complementary couple. Jacques Aschenbroich is an established entrepreneur with a proven track record in corporate governance. Everyone will play their part. I don’t want a president who takes on the role of CEO. Conversely, Jacques would not want me to take over his role as president. We share this vision and I think this is one of the keys to our success.