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October 16, 2023

Atos chair departs as shareholders hit out at planned sale to billionaire

As its share price continues to fall, the IT services giant is making more changes in the boardroom.

By Matthew Gooding

There’s been another change at the top of struggling IT services giant Atos, with chair Bertrand Meunier departing the business. Meunier had championed a plan to sell off parts of Atos, which has seen its share price drop dramatically over the past 12 months, to Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinksy, but this has been criticised by some shareholder groups.

Atos has a new chair, weeks after it changed CEO. (Photo by T. Schneider/Shutterstock)

Meunier has resigned his role, and been replaced by Jean Pierre Mustier, Atos said in a statement this morning. His departure comes just two weeks after Atos appointed a new CEO, with Yves Bernaert taking up the top role, which had been shared by Nourdine Bihmane, Philippe Oliva and Diane Galbe.

Atos shares were trading at their lowest point of the year when the markets closed on Friday, at €4.88. This time last year they were worth more than €9.

Meunier departs Atos over Kretinksy deal

With the company’s value plummeting, it’s perhaps no surprise that Meunier has come under pressure. As reported by Tech Monitor, Atos has been in the doldrums for some time, struggling to transition its business from a provider of on-premise IT services to one that can compete with the public cloud hyperscalers.

Despite this, it remains a business of national strategic importance in France, where it is based, and is a key supplier to the public sector on the other side of the channel, as well as the UK government and many large private sector organisations.

As reported by Tech Monitor, Atos has been attempting to turn the tide for the past 12 months, since it announced a split in its business, with its legacy IT services division being spun off into a new company, Tech Foundations, and its cybersecurity and data services going it alone as part of a separate business, Eviden.

Atos wants to focus on growing Eviden, and in August agreed on a deal to sell Tech Foundations to Kretinksy’s EP Equity Investment (EPEI) vehicle, which would see EPEI pay €100m for the company and take on debt worth €1.9bn. This has been agreed by the Atos board but has yet to be ratified by shareholders.

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As part of the agreement, Kretinksy would also take a 7.5% stake in Eviden, something that has been questioned by French politicians given the nature of the company’s work with the nation’s defence sector.

Meanwhile, investor groups including hedge fund CIAM have criticised Atos for not providing sufficient information about the benefits of the Tech Foundations sale, with a coalition of small shareholders, UDAAC, having written to the French market regulator the AMF to ask it to take action.

Mustier must sell Tech Foundations sale

It seems it will now be up to Mustier to work with Bernaert to convince shareholders that the Tech Foundations sale instigated by Meunier should go ahead. A former CEO of Italian bank UniCredit, Mustier has been part of the Atos board since May. Laurent Collet-Billon will serve as vice-chair.

Mustier said: “I would like to thank Bertrand Meunier for his contribution to the group and look forward, together with Laurent Collet-Billon and the whole board to work closely with the management team to move forward the transformation of the group in the interest of all of its stakeholders, clients, employees and shareholders.”

Having served as Atos chair since 2019, Meunier will now leave the business immediately. He thanked Mustier for his “invaluable” and “unwavering support”, and said: “I know that the management team will be able to count on him as they work together to lead the Group to success.”

Read more: Atlassian to pay $975m for video messaging platform Loom

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