Graham Howe, the deputy chief executive of Orange, confirmed yesterday that he would leave the mobile phone operator he helped set up more than a decade ago after Solomon Trujillo was named chief executive.
Mr Howe, who co-founded Orange in 1992, decided to rule himself out of the running for the position over Christmas after concluding it was "time for a change". One source said: "He decided he wanted a change and there was a window. If he had become CEO he would have had to have committed to staying another three to four years at least."
France Telecom, Orange's parent, announced on Thursday that it had appointed Mr Trujillo, one of Orange's non-executive directors, as its new chief executive to replace Jean-François Pontal, who is retiring. Mr Howe has agreed to stay on at Orange for a "transition period".
The appointment came as a surprise to City analysts, however, who had expected either Mr Howe or Didier Quillot, the head of Orange's French business, to get the top job.
Mr Trujillo also seemed surprised to have been appointed chief executive and admitted yesterday that he had only been approached by the head of France Telecom, Thierry Breton, in the past three weeks.
"At first, I looked at him [M. Breton] and said 'what?' because I was not seeking this. I was not looking for this," he said, adding: "Thierry looked at the candidates and then somewhere along the way had this idea of asking me if I would do this because of my background and knowledge."
Mr Trujillo, a former chief executive of US West, takes up his new role on 3 March. "I'll spend the next few weeks immersing myself inside the business," he said. Mr Howe said yesterday that he was "very pleased" that Mr Trujillo had got the job and said he thought he would "genuinely be good for Orange".
But the appointment was part of a wider management reshuffle at Orange. Simon Duffy, who joined Orange as finance director in May last year, is to leave the company. Wilfried Verstraete, the finance director of France's Wanadoo, takes over from him on 3 March.
The board shake-up also sparked fears about Orange's future direction and strategy, with many in the City assumed there would be more integration with France Telecom.
"The reason why Thierry asked me to take the job is to help him think about things that ought to be done between Orange and France Telecom and to me there are no options that should not be on the table," Mr Trujillo said.
Separately, M. Breton said he hoped France Telecom would get its debt mountain down to about €35bn (£23bn) within two and a half years and said about 7,500 jobs would go this year as the group would not replace those who leave or retire.
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