PARIS: French telecoms multinational Orange is days away from naming Christel Heydemann as its first female chief executive, replacing disgraced head Stephane Richard, sources close to the company said on Monday. French national Heydemann, who is currently vice president for Europe at Schneider Electric and has previously worked for Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia, is the leading candidate to succeed Richard who is to step down at the end of the month. The French government, which holds more than 20 percent of the historic operator’s capital, has given its backing to Heydemann, saying it wanted a woman at the helm.

“Everybody is falling in with the government’s position,” one source said ahead of a board meeting Friday which is expected to nominate Heydemann. She would be expected to take up the CEO position on April 1, the source said, although some “technical points”, including her remuneration package, still needed to be resolved.

In November, an appeals court handed Richard a one-year suspended sentence for complicity in misuse of public funds over a massive 2008 state payout to businessman Bernard Tapie. Richard was chief of staff to then-finance minister and current European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde when she approved a 404-million-euro ($450-million) arbitration payment to Tapie to settle a long-running dispute over his stake in Adidas sports apparel company. The company will now also need to find a new president, a job that Richard holds together with the chief executive position.

Heydemann, 47, has been a member of Orange’s board since 2017. If she is confirmed, Orange will be one of only two French blue-chip companies in the CAC-40 stock exchange index to have a female boss. The other is energy giant Engie, where Catherine MacGregor became CEO a year ago, replacing Isabelle Kocher.

Another woman, Estelle Brachlianoff, is to take over at French utility Veolia in July. Barring any last-minute obstacle, Heydemann will on Friday see off the other key candidates for the job, deputy managing director Ramon Fernandez and Verizon sales director Frank Boulben. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire “wants more women to take management jobs at large companies”, a finance ministry spokesperson told AFP. “At equivalent qualifications, the minister wants a woman to take over at Orange,” the spokesperson said. — AFP