Atos shareholders prepare war against its president

Several investors met on Thursday to organize the slingshot against the group’s leadership. They threaten to call an extraordinary meeting and expel Bertrand Meunier.

This is the gun vigil at Atos. In recent weeks, several small shareholders have clashed with the group’s management. Its share price was collapsed by 70% since the announcement, in mid-June, of the division into two separate entities, between the “classic” IT services and the cloud and cybersecurity businesses. They criticize management’s “lack of strategic vision”, as the margin fell from 9% to 3% in one year.

According to various sources, several investors met on Thursday to discuss the strategy to follow to push Atos to review his government.

“They are sharpening their weapons and trying to unite as many shareholders as possible around them,” explains a source.

Three of them, Sycomore, Sparta Capital and individual shareholder Hervé Lecesne, formalized their demands in five letters written to the board. They demand the departure of the president, Bertrand Meunier, and the change of three administrators. The latter has symbolically conceded to let go of the presidency of the appointments commission that he accumulated, but refuses to go further.

In recent days they have received a dismissal from Atos. “If the administrators left, Atos would open a new period of uncertainty after the departure of the CEO Rodolphe Belmer”, they justify within the management. To put pressure, Sycomore sent a letter to all shareholders at the end of July to federate them and call an extraordinary general meeting (AGE) to remove Bertrand Meunier. “He would like a calmer solution and discuss, but Atos totally denies it,” explains a source close to Sycomore.

Siemens in support

He polled various investors to follow him. Because the law requires raising 5% of the capital to convene an “AGE”. “Faced with the fall of the stock market, there are more than enough shareholders willing to continue”, assures a good connoisseur of Atos. According to various sources, the names of Sparta Capital, JG Capital, DNCA, Montségur Finance, businessman Hervé Lecesne as well as foreign investors such as Atlantic and a Swedish family are mentioned. They are ready to follow Sycamore in his approach.

The question also arises for the main shareholder of Atos, the German Siemens (10%), silent for years. Several investors assure that they will follow this revolt to change governance. “Siemens will not say anything officially but will follow the movement, explains a source close to the file. Several shareholders are in contact with them.” He recalls that the Siemens administrator left his position on the accounts committee a year after Thierry Breton left.

profiles for the presidency

In practice, however, it will be difficult to call an extraordinary general meeting. The management may object by resorting to the commercial court. This procedure would take several months and would allow Atos to temporize until next spring’s general meeting. For shareholders, it is a sure way to increase the pressure in the face of precisely this “AG”. The threat of calling an “AGE” is above all a means of establishing a balance of power with Bertrand Meunier to break him. Some shareholders have even begun to think about profiles to join the Atos board of directors. Dominique Cerutti’s name is regularly mentioned for the presidency, as is Bernard Bourigeaud’s for an administrator position. The latter is one of the founders of Atos twenty years ago. He now chairs its former payments subsidiary, Worldline.

Breaking the taboo of the Atos takeover bid

Some shareholders are also reluctant to shake the board where Edouard Philippe sits. “There is no need to go to confrontation because inside there is a former prime minister and the government that is closely following the file,” warns a good connoisseur of the file. Not to mention the shadow of former CEO Thierry Breton hanging over Atos. The current president Bertrand Meunier has remained close to the current Commissioner for Industry of the European Commission.

Basically, they all have the same goal: to raise the stock price. Shareholders are pressing especially for the departure of Bertrand Meunier to break the taboo of the Atos takeover bid. Its president has been opposed to rapprochement for several months and has rejected Tales’ proposals. His departure would allow shareholders to field a chairman open to backing, particularly from the cybersecurity arm that is drawing a lot of interest. From Thales, Orange or Airbus but also Inetum or OVH whose names circulate without being denied. Everyone is observing the situation and ready to jump.

Matthew Pechberty BFM Business Journalist

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