Ousted ENGIE CEO departs as search for successor continues

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As she stepped down as CEO, Kocher said she had always seen herself as “one of the links of a long chain” at ENGIE. Image credit: Engie

The controversial departure of ENGIE’s CEO Isabelle Kocher has materialised this week, with the executive stepping down less than three weeks after the utility's board of directors forced her out.

In a prepared statement alongside board members, Kocher spoke of “immense emotion” as she resigned in line with a succession plan outlined in early February, following rumours of open conflict between Kocher and the board over the firm’s direction.

The ousted CEO wished “good luck” to the managers that will take over temporarily, while ENGIE looks for a full-time replacement. The transition team will be headed up by interim CEO Claire Waysand, together with COO Paulo Almirante and CFO Judith Hartmann.

Information released by ENGIE showed Kocher is to be compensated with €3.3 million (US$3.57 million) all in all, split between around €1.4 million (US$1.51 million) over the termination itself and a further €1.9 million (US$2.05 million) under a non-compete agreement.

In her statement, Kocher said she had always seen herself as “one of the links of a long chain” for the close to two decades she spent at ENGIE. “I know its future is bright, without a doubt,” she remarked. “I therefore leave ENGIE absolutely serene, and with an immense emotion.”

Group’s direction ‘uncertain’ as Waysand holds interim reins

Kocher’s farewell sees ENGIE turn the page after reports of internal squabbles between the evicted CEO and the board. Sources approached by French media have linked the rift to Kocher’s sale “on the cheap” of fossil fuel assets the group was divesting in line with its green transition.

Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, chair of ENGIE’s board since May 2018, has been described in media reports as one of Kocher’s critics. In the statement this week, he struck a conciliatory tone as he thanked Kocher for setting the energy giant on a “path of far-reaching transformation”.

Exactly where ENGIE’s path will lead the business to is a question analysts have raised recently, with S&P arguing the strategic direction now looks “uncertain”. Pressed by rival politicians, the French state – ENGIE’s top individual shareholder – has ruled out the dissolution of the business.

According to sources briefing French outlets, the choice of 24 February as the date for Kocher's stepdown stemmed from a will to ensure she would be gone by the time ENGIE publishes its 2019 financial results. As the group confirmed today, the release is slated to go ahead on 27 February.

The appointment of Claire Waysand as ENGIE’s interim CEO comes four months after she joined the group’s board of directors. Prior to ENGIE, Waysand’s career took her to the French Treasury Department, the European Investment Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The prospects and challenges of solar's new era in France and the rest of Europe will take centre stage at Large Scale Solar Europe 2020 (Lisbon, on 31 March-1 April 2020).

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