France Telecom Suicides Spur CEO Resignation At Last

France Telecom’s Stéphane Richard has gotten his way.

Richard, who now serves as COO, will assume the CEO post on March 1 because current head Didier Lombard is, after months of pressure, resigning. Lombard’s contract lasted through 2011. However, he is opting to stand down as CEO and remain as board chairman until early next year.

Richard has been pushing for Lombard to step aside. The leadership shuffle, announced on Monday, comes amid France Telecom’s employee suicide crisis. Thirty-four people have killed themselves because they could not handle the company’s intense, American-style restructuring. France Telecom used to be state-owned; after becoming privatized, though, executives implemented layoffs, upended job duties and consolidated operations to workers’ consternation. Lombard has taken the most criticism for failing to improve staff morale.

Last week, the Financial Times said France Telecom was on the verge of a “full-blown leadership crisis,” noting that Richard was trying to convince the company’s board to oust Lombard.

Didier has served as CEO France Telecom since February 2005. In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro this week, Lombard said he regretted how he handled the suicides.

“I should certainly have acted earlier,” Lombard said, adding that the steps France Telecom took in October to curb the problems should have been carried out in August.

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