July 1, 2022

war at the top at Grenoble’s Soitec…

The electronics group Soitec, which has 1,600 employees and more than 500 million euros in turnover, is one of the few specialists in France for innovative semiconductors. A market, currently in tension because cruelly lacking of products to be sold in particular in direction of the car manufacturers, which makes the fat cabbage of the Grenoble-based company.

While all the company’s figures are green, the Soitec share suddenly fell by more than 18% on Friday January 21, then again by 8% on Monday January 24.

Inexplicable? No, because this stock market plunge illustrates an astonishing and unexpected crisis of governance within the flagship of Isère. A crisis that greatly worries analysts, hence the free fall on the stock market.

It all starts with the designation, apparently normal, by the company’s board of directors of Pierre Barnabé, 51, the current boss of the “big data” and cybersecurity branch of the Atos group, as CEO of Soitec.

Everything would have ended there, without the lively reaction of the Soitec management committee to this appointment.

The terms are not muffled, to say the least: in this letter, of which the newspaper Les Echos had a copy, “Soitec’s management committee deplores the takeover of Soitec by the chairman of the board of directors for three years which culminates today with the incomprehensible appointment of a new general manager…”

Further still, said management committee adds that “it is incomprehensible that the succession was organized in such haste and in total opacity, without involving the general manager in the recruitment process and without serious consideration of internal candidates…”

Close the ban!

An iconic boss

It must be said that currently Soitec is headed by an emblematic boss, Paul Boudre, 63, an adventurous boss who led the company to the heights where it currently culminates, but considered too close to the age limit.

However, Paul Boudre who could take his retirement rights next July could have remained eighteen months longer at the head of the company and would even have prepared a succession plan.

He is also the man who is at the origin of the strategic plan which aims to allow Soitec to double in size by 2026 and therefore to exceed one billion euros in turnover.

In short, we find ourselves faced with an open war between two corporate governance entities that should work hand in hand.

We can finally be surprised at the cavalier way that a board of directors has of separating from a key man who managed to turn the company around after it was in difficulty and knew how to turn it around nicely. way.

In fifteen years of presence within the Isère group, including five as general management, it was he who made a strategic shift and managed the dark years with a restructuring plan at the key and the cessation of its diversification towards the solar, but also the one that enabled Soitec to post the best quarterly financial year in its history: +53%, with net profit jumping by… 234%.

CGT in dance

The case does not stop there since even the CGT, the majority union at Soitec has just entered the dance, de facto supporting the decision of the board of directors.

The union thus recalls that “the decision which has just been taken must be accepted by all”, although “recognizing failures in the succession process.”

It’s the least we can say.

Everything suggests, however, that it is indeed Pierre Barnabé who will ultimately take over the reins of the company, but the episode could leave serious consequences…