The Director General and the President differ on the strategy to be presented next week. Thales continues to lobby for its cybersecurity division.
The crisis never ended at Athos. A new general manager took office on January 1, and his relations with his board have already been strained. However, it was President Bertrand Meunier who picked and appointed Rudolf Belmer at the end of last year. But the definition of strategy, which must be presented next Tuesday, crystallizes strong tensions at the Atos summit.
According to several sources close to the group, the strategic options proposed by Rudolf Belmer have been rejected by the Atos Board of Directors on several occasions. The last refusal so far, May 17, the day before the General Assembly during which the two men nevertheless made a good appearance and hid their differences.
In recent months, the CEO has been swept up in various scenarios whose base was a major change in the scope of Atos. Because the group suffers from the downturn in its historic IT asset management business. Conversely, the Hardware, Cyber Security, and Supercomputer activities saw an increase in their turnover of around 10%. This division is at the heart of the concern. Atos needs to be developed but doesn’t have the big resources.
The future of the Internet industry
According to several sources, Rodolphe Belmer worked on the initial public offering but also the split, accompanied by the entry of an industrial partner. The general manager even considered the option to buy the entire set. But each time his thoughts were refuted.
This source adds: “The board wants to maintain the independence and integrity of Atos. The point is not to sacrifice anything.” Relations between Rudolf Belmer and Atos president Bertrand Meunier have become “strained” over the months, according to several sources.
“There are certainly different opinions about the different options that have been studied,” an Atos spokesperson said half a word.
“The question this confrontation poses is: Who sets the strategy? Explains an Atos executive. It’s the board of directors, not the general manager, even if he tries.” The standoff is so strong that some internally question Rudolf Belmer’s maintenance in office. A difficult decision for the Atos board of directors only six months after his arrival and the dismissal of his predecessor, Eli Gerrard.
Thales raises trouble
These differences amplified with the arrival of a player in the game: Thales. Defense Group is seeking to buy the cyber security division of Atos. Several approaches have been implemented but Athos opposes, for the time being, the termination of inadmissibility. “We won’t welcome a predator with open arms,” annoys a source close to the board of directors.
Already in March, Rudolf Belmer declared that cyber security was “not for sale”. But he seemed more open than Atos managers. “He was ready to listen to us,” confirms a close friend of Thales, who regrets not having had any discussion. Atos seemed willing to discuss an alliance in the “internet” where Thales would remain a minority shareholder. But the defense community does not want that at this point. Its CEO, Patrice Kane, continues to apply intense pressure. He exerts pressure at all levels of the state, in particular the Ministry of Defense, which is a major client of both companies.
The country will decide
Thales sends a message that he “will not launch an attack on Athos,” he told several sources close to the group. But Patrice Kane did not disarm. Cybersecurity is essential in his strategy and he is not going to give up on the idea of buying this business from Atos, which he has been eyeing for several years now. “It is left to the state, which must decide now,” adds one of his relatives. At Athos, we also procrastinate. “We must give the new government time to consider our future, the director who seizes the opportunity to deal with Thales errs: the state does not like hostile solutions.”
In this case, the state is everywhere: a major customer of Atos and Thales, which is also a shareholder. She is also in Airbus and Orange, the other two groups interested in this cybersecurity division. “Macron guarantees Atos stay in France,” we hear in the government footnote. The chief also has a strong following at Atos. The former prime minister, Edouard Philippe, has been an administrator since leaving Matignon two years ago.