Didier Lombard acted as any other ‘tough’ CEO would at a time when the business he was entrusted to lead faced crisis point. He put in place a tough efficiency drive and restructured the company to force managers to change jobs every three years.
The result was that over 35 of the Telecomm giant’s staff took their lives
. Many cited pressure at work as the reason for their action.
Responding to public pressure from the Press, social media and Unions, the CEO stepped down
earlier than planned. In an interview in British national paper, The Telegraph
at the time, he called the spate of suicides “a social crisis” and was quoted as saying: "I should certainly have acted earlier, steps the company took in October to boost morale should probably have been implemented two months earlier.”
Indicted and facing charges over the suicides which took place on his watch, Lombard has lashed back using the very public stage of Le Monde,
where he wrote that although the suicides were regrettable he very much doubted his efficiency drive at France Telecom had anything to do with it.
The willingness of French prosecutors to go after a senior CEO in what was formerly a state monopoly marks a wind of change in France, where such issues were frequently overlooked by authorities and turned a blind eye to by society.
Whether the action will lead to more transparent business practices in the future and a faster adoption of social business models by French industries which are still stuck in the 20th century, remains to be seen.