Danone crisis Emmanuel Faber on Borrowed Time

The meeting dragged on, but Danone’s board of directors preferred, Thursday, February 18, to procrastinate on the issues that annoy. The food group confined itself to publishing its 2020 annual accounts the next day, marked by a 6.6% drop in sales and an operating margin down to 14%. And to formalize the acquisition of the Californian company Follow Your Heart, specializing in vegetable cheese.

But the fate of CEO Emmanuel Faber, whose management deemed too financial is contested by some shareholders, remains unresolved. The directors are scheduled to meet again in March to discuss governance, a sign of deep division between them on the best way out of a major crisis shaking a French flagship employing 100,000 people.

On Tuesday, Artisan Partners, claiming more than 3% of Danone’s capital, presented the group’s senior directors with an alternative project aimed at revitalizing sales of Evian. A plan involving the appointment of a chairman and a chief executive officer, two positions that would not be vested in the current CEO. Faced with this sling, Mr. Faber tried to organize backfires. A tactic close to the defense of Isabelle Kocher, the former director general of the energy company Engie, who wanted to place the non-renewal of her mandate on the political ground, decided in February 2020. This last-ditch maneuver s ‘was shown to be counterproductive.

“There is a form of“ kocherisation ”of the situation,” admits a good connoisseur of Danone. To save Ms. Kocher’s post, a collective of intellectuals and politicians had signed a column in Les Echos assuring that the leader was “essential” to the ecological transition. Mr. Faber’s camp, which made Danone the first listed mission company, wants to install the leader as the guarantor of responsible.

Helped by Mathias Vicherat, former chief of staff of Bertrand Delanoe and then Anne Hidalgo, who became Danone’s secretary general in 2019, the CEO sought allies in the political world. He notably met Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. At this stage, the support was few to come forward. Earlier this week, Pascal Lamy, former Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), chairman of a committee responsible for evaluating the implementation of the agrifood group’s commitments as a company with a mission, threatened to “return his apron” if the board of directors l of the CEO. CFDT General Secretary Laurent Berger spoke on BFM Business, saying it “dangerous” to destabilize the company.


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