The only female chief executive among Europe’s major utilities, Engie’s Isabelle Kocher, has been ousted by the company’s board of directors.
In what some might see as a move to counter accusations of sexism by the male-dominated board, executive vice-president Claire Waysand was immediately appointed interim chief executive of the $42bn power giant.
An official statement by Engie said that after an annual strategic review, the board decided that “the group needs to take another step forward in transformation and to deepen the strategy launched to make Engie a leader in the energy and climate transition”.
It therefore seemed something of a contradiction when chairman Jean-Pierre Clamadieu said in the same statement that Kocher “led the group on a path of far-reaching transformation, and in particular through the withdrawal from hydrocarbon exploration and production activities and coal-fired electricity production”.
Last year, the company — formerly French gas monopoly GDF — pledged to invest €12bn ($13.1bn) in its 2019-21 energy transition programme, and was on track to install 9GW of renewables in that period. It had already installed 12.5GW of green energy by the end of June last year.
And last month, Engie announced a new offshore wind joint venture with Portuguese utility EDP to install an initial pipeline of 3.7GW.
According to Bloomberg, Kocher’s firing after four years in the role and 20 years at the company was less about Engie’s energy transition and more about personality and leadership style. In addition, her sell-off of fossil-fuel assets that were still highly profitable — which some say were sold at a knock-down price — reduced operational revenues, a move that made her unpopular in some quarters.
Bloomberg suggested that her poor working relationships with her chairmen — first, former chief executive Gerard Mestrallet and then his successsor Clamadieu — contributed to her demise, and described her failed attempt to gain the chair, as Mestrallet had done, was a clear example of “one rule for the boys" and another for the girls.
Engie — which is 24%-owned by the French government — was the fifth-largest European utility by market capitalization at the end of March last year, valued at €32bn, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. None of the other top 20 European utilities on S&P’s list is currently being run by a woman.