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Portrait | Orange woman fist head

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“I never imagined I would be a CEO,” he says. Crystal Heidemann During an exchange on the sidelines of a tennis tournament Roland Garros In Paris at the beginning of June, for which Orange is the official supplier. Immediately, the people who wanted to exchange with Crystal Heidemann followed one another. It must be said that this former engineer only took over the leadership of the group in April 2022 Since then, his agenda has never been empty.

If her rise to the position of head of a giant European telecom company was unique, it is still extraordinary to see a woman in the position of general manager of a large group in CAC 40. a few months ahead of time, Kathryn MacGregor He became the first to be featured in this way in Engi. then Estelle Brashlianov She followed suit at Veolia on July 1, 2022, becoming the third woman in France to reach such a strategic CAC 40 position.

Focus on digital inclusion

Just a year ago, Christel Heidemann took advantage of the show Vivatec to make her first public address and impress on the ambitions she is willing to bear with her latest appointment. “Digital has no future if it is not accessible to everyone,” she exclaimed. Today, the director of Orange assures that she has not changed course: “Our core business remains network infrastructure and our ingenuity is that we don’t see its complexity from the outside. Our task is to make it work and to make it accessible to as many people as possible. We must also work for digital inclusion in Europe and Africa.”

For example, the program Orange Digital Center It is spread everywhere in which the group operates. It is a free program that everyone can access to learn about digital technology, develop their skills, or be accompanied in a professional career. In particular, it makes it possible to incubate startups or train in coding. In total, it is already more than 750,000 beneficiaries The program is spread in fifteen African countries. “I don’t understand why we should deprive Africa and the Middle East of the opportunities offered by digital technology,” affirms Christel Heidemann, noting that this ambition was already supported by her predecessor Stefan Richard, who was removed from the chairmanship of the group. After being convicted on appeal in the Tapie case. “Stéphane has also made a bet on fiber optic deployment, and I’ve already seen it when I’ve sat on Orange’s board of directors for the past five years,” she continues. The new CEO believes she has embarked on a greater shift in Orange’s B2B offering, particularly to cater to the surge in demand for cloud and new tools from businesses since the health crisis. It also made the difficult decision at the beginning of the year to break away from its audiovisual business by selling the OCS channel package and the Orange Studio films and series co-production to Canal +.

meteoric rise

Born in Clamart in 1974 to a central father and an ordinary mother, Christel Heidemann spent most of her student life at l’X École. The latter associates this period with a “very rich guild life”, a way of balancing her access, in the following years, to distinguished art schools (Polytechnique and then Ponts et Chaussées). “I have never been a geek and have always been at the intersection of technology and man,” she justifies herself. According to her, “We must not forget that the business leader is above all responsible for a human group” and must “surround himself well” to better understand the rip-off in progress.

at 23, Crystal Heidemann He started his professional career with an apprenticeship Boston Consulting Group, and then continued in the field of communications: Alcatel at first, then Alcatel-Lucent for ten years, mainly as a contract manager with major accounts such as SFR and Orange. Then you join Schneider Electric in 2014 and took just six years to move up the ranks internally and take on the position of Executive Vice President, Europe. Its progress has marked it since 2012, when it was classified as a global economy by the World Economic Forum “Young Global Leader”. “What attracts me when reading his resume is a quality not so common among engineers: his passion for human connection, which shines through throughout his career,” defines Henri Vidalinc, Group President. Consulting and Human Resources Services Grant Alexander in an interview for Cadremploi in May 2021. “I encounter many disciplines: finance, human resources, sales, strategy. It is more credible than a profile that would have been built in an expert sector.” Tully Christel Heidemann, mother of two A travel enthusiast, she takes a special interest in HR issues, and even commissioned a report on the balance between family time and professional time.

An adjective that undoubtedly weighed in his profile selection to replace Stéphane Richard, in the face of two favorites in the race: Frank Polbin, head of sales at Verizon, or even Ramon Fernandez, the former deputy general manager of Orange who worked at CMA-CGM. The state, which still accounts for 23% of the group’s shareholders, also appears to have supported this appointment. Indeed, the Minister of Economy, Bruno Le Maire, would have defended the candidacy of Christel Heidemann. Finally, according to sources contacted by BFM Business, Stéphane Richard himself had “stepped in” on his behalf.

Big challenges

Christel Heydemann arrived in a decisive context for the first driver in France. Just a few months after his appointment, Orange’s board of directors and shareholders supported the decision to appoint the former head of the company ValeoJacques Achenbroich, Non-Executive Chairman, dividing the position held by Christel Heidemann.

The latter has already made tough decisions in the face of the group’s uncertain results on some of its verticals. Having erased just over 1 billion euros in operating losses since its inception in 2017, Orange Bank is still looking for a buyer. Similarly, Orange Business Division is also in difficulty and has to cut about 700 jobs to raise the bar. However, Orange still generated 10.62 billion in turnover in the first quarter (+1.3%), and the growth was largely helped by results recorded in Africa and the Middle East.

Another big challenge: Orange has set itself the goal of reaching 35% are women in managerial positions And 25% in technical occupations by 2035. “We already have 33% of female leaders, and the feminization of technical teams will be difficult because female leaders are rare,” laments Christel Heidemann. In general, in his view, it would be necessary to put an end to the imposter syndrome which would prevent some women from imposing themselves at higher hierarchical levels. “Women are naturally not attracted to power, and this is a shame,” she continues. You have to dare to ask and not be afraid of rejection. His advice to young women: “Choose your boss or boss carefully!”, recalling the opportunity she had to have as “managers attracted her”.

“simplicity is beautiful”

In terms of technology, Christel Heidemann is a follower of “beautiful minimalism”, referring to the economist’s “small is beautiful” in the 1970s, Ernst Friedrich Schumacher. His concept introduces the idea of ​​a ‘Logical and simple’ growth That lean towards sustainable use of natural resources resonates today even more. The President of Orange understands that even if digital is synonymous with economic development and unlimited access to knowledge, it is still necessary to ensure certain ethics.

It turns out that societal dialogue never really heated up around these issues: On May 26, for example, dozens of mostly young climate activists tried to Bother general meeting of Total energy In Paris. Far from protesting against a giant oil company accused of “environmental genocide,” the event is fueling a substantive “almost generational” debate about the reinvention of the growth paradigm being implemented by the business world. “I understand this feeling towards the generations that would have contributed to the destruction of the planet,” grants Christel Heidemann. But I think that in addition to simple resistance, it is also necessary to be in the constructive proposal. This is what I shared during a meeting with the students of the Polytechnic, and I asked them to be “in action.” And not in the inventory of the past.” For the CEO, “Given what’s at stake, we must step out of generational opposition and focus on our collective responsibility to act quickly.”

This article was written by: Pierre Berthaux

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