Joint interview with Christel Heydemann and Stéphane Richard
with Christel Heydemann and Stéphane Richard
Orange has now separated the roles of Chair and Chief Executive Officer. Stéphane Richard, you will continue to serve as Chairman until the Shareholders’ Meeting on 19 May. Christel Heydemann, you took over as Chief Executive Officer on 4 April. How do you feel about this new chapter for the Group?
Stéphane Richard: First, I’d like to thank everyone in the Group for all their hard work over the past 12 years. Their commitment to our customers and flair for innovation have contributed to strong Group performance. Together, we took chances to drive our growth and strengthen our network leadership—and they paid off. I am delighted to welcome my successor as Orange CEO, Christel Heydemann, and wish her every success in her new role. I got to see her strategic vision, in-depth knowledge of industry challenges and numerous personal qualities for myself during her five-year term on the Board of Directors and firmly believe they will stand her in good stead as she and all our teams rise to future challenges.
Christel Heydemann: In recent years, Orange teams have shown their strong work ethic, excellence and ability to adapt through our infrastructure. I am honored to join the company as CEO and contribute to its development by responding to the many challenges that lie ahead. I would like to thank the Board for putting their trust in me. Ready to give this position my all, I feel motivated and determined and fully appreciate the responsibilities I am undertaking. Furthermore, I know that I can count on our strong, committed teams to help steer the company to success.
What challenges lie ahead and how will the Group overcome them?
C.H.: The acceleration of companies’ digital transformation presents a major opportunity. Our rich expertise as an operator and a digital service integrator enables us to seize this opportunity and act as a strategic partner to our customers in terms of cybersecurity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and so on. The Group also needs to restore its growth in Spain, a highly difficult market where we face intense competition from low-cost brands. That’s why we have entered into exclusive negotiations with MásMóvil with a view to merging our operations and creating a super operator in the Spanish market. The primary challenge in France will be supporting copper-to-fiber migration nationwide to offer everybody the best connectivity possible. That’s why we teamed up with long-term investors in November 2021 to launch Orange Concessions, which aims to operate 4.5 million FTTH connections in 6,500 communities by 2025. Orange’s powerful Purpose can help us rise to these challenges and turn them into shared successes.
How can the Group reduce its carbon emissions in line with its ambitions?
C.H.: Digital technology is key to reconciling energy performance with economic performance. As an industry leader, we have a twofold responsibility—we need to proactively reduce our carbon emissions and help our customers improve their energy performance. To achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, we must make unprecedented strides in terms of boosting energy efficiency, using low-carbon energy sources and working with all our partners. Demand for more modern networks presents a wonderful opportunity for us to support the transition from copper to fiber and decommission 2G and 3G networks. Furthermore, the Group has made progress in applying eco-design principles to equipment design, as well as in recycling, collecting and reconditioning equipment every year since it launched its extensive circular economy program. Just as a circular economy requires changes in behavior and production methods, it also helps identify new opportunities for innovation and growth. What’s exciting about building a circular economy is that it’s a team effort.
The Group has heavily invested in deploying new-generation digital infrastructure—has this strategy paid off?
S.R.: Definitely. Investing in high-performance, intelligent, secure and energy-efficient networks ensures our industrial strategy is sustainable while connecting growing numbers of people worldwide. We made an ambitious decision in the 2010s to become one of the first large investors in fiber optics and are now the European fiber leader, with over 56 million connectable homes and almost 12 million customers. We have also deployed 5G networks in six European countries. Although the 5G story has only just begun, this new technology will give companies a decisive edge over their competitors in the coming years. We also hold a leadership position in the European convergence market, with 11.5 million customers. These outstanding levels of commercial performance are complemented by higher levels of customer satisfaction and provide a solid foundation to build on in the future.
What growth areas has the Group identified?
C.H.: More digital societies bring new threats, notably in the form of cyberattacks, which increased fourfold between 2019 and 2020 in France. The Group’s cybersecurity arm, Orange Cyberdefense, enjoyed double-digit growth in 2021 and our experts continue to develop solutions designed to better protect customer data and IT systems. Our growth in Africa and the Middle East is particularly strong, with mobile data revenues up 25.2% and fixed broadband revenues up 23.5%. Lastly, diversification into a broad range of services including finance, connected homes and energy is another growth area.
How is the Group affected by the current international geopolitical tensions?
S.R.: Our number one priority everywhere is ensuring our teams are safe and showing solidarity with the populations affected. Our employees are actively involved in supporting Ukrainian refugees in former Orange training centers that have been turned into shelters, primarily in countries bordering Ukraine. The Orange Foundation donated €1 million in aid. Additionally, in our operating countries in Europe, calls to Ukraine are now free or cost 80% less than our standard rates. As well as having immediate effects, the current conflict is a reminder that we need to better protect our data and strengthen digital sovereignty across Europe. That’s why Orange is involved in the Gaia-X initiative and the Bleu project, which aims to provide a reliable cloud platform.
Christel Heydemann, what will be your guiding principles over the coming months?
C.H.: First, I want to reach out and listen to the Group’s teams and shareholders to ensure full transparency and confirm our strategy is effective. I’ll be making the time to travel and meet people on the ground over the next few months. Second, I will show how my own values dovetail with those of Orange in relation to topics that are important to me, such as climate change mitigation and diversity. During my career, I saw the positive impact proactive workplace gender diversity policies can have. These are topics to which Orange has been committed for several years now, and in which I will invest all my energy.