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The eviction of Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber is a real mess

A carte blanche from Philippe Diercxsens, employed for 22 years in the Danone Group.

We learned this week that the Board of Directors of Groupe Danone has terminated the functions of our emblematic boss, Emmanuel Faber.
The governance crisis that Danone is going through resonates as a harsh reminder of the realities of the primacy of shareholders over other stakeholders: employees, consumers, suppliers and unions, but also of the primacy of financial success over social, societal and sustainable development. All of them are an integral part of Groupe Danone’s genes. In 1972 Antoine Riboud, another emblematic director of Groupe Danone, gave a speech in Marseille which made him, 15 years before Madame Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norwegian Prime Minister) promoted him in 1987, the promoter of the concept of development sustainable: “Let us conduct our businesses as much with the heart as with the head and let us not forget that if the energy resources of the earth have limits, those of the man are infinite if he feels motivated”.

Towards a “company with a mission”

Emmanuel Faber made this sentence his own. Author in 2012 of a remarkable book, “ Crossing paths », He explains how he came to set up with the Nobel Peace Prize, Mohammed Yunus, a model factory in Bangladesh producing a hypervitamin yogurt intended for the nutrition of the children, sold by hundreds of poor women become self-employed and financed by a special organization, Danone Communities, a prototype of a new kind of ethical investment fund. Emmanuel Faber is also at the base of two other social innovation funds: the Danone Ecosystem Fund and the Livelihoods Fund. The first co-creates inclusive business solutions that respond to local challenges through the professional empowerment of vulnerable actors in Danone’s value chain. The second invests in large-scale projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America to restore ecosystems, contribute to climate action and create value in agricultural supply chains. These funds reinvent our relationship with our stakeholders, thanks to new means of collaboration and co-creation.

Finally, on June 26, 2020, Emmanuel Faber receives the plebiscite of shareholders who vote more than 99% for the transformation of the company into a “company with a mission”.
It is the first in France to adopt this status. From now on Danone, beyond the requirement to generate profits, will also have, by statute, to fulfill social, societal and environmental objectives. Only nine months later these same shareholders terminate the functions of our boss. It is to understand nothing there.

The assaults of two shareholders

For many of my colleagues Emmanuel Faber is a model. In 2017, he made several strategic changes, in particular disposals of old specialties (beer, champagne, cookies) to refocus on the health sector and continue the internationalization of the group. He is known to have taken a stand for more social justice, based on his personal experience. How not to be enthusiastic about working for a company promoting so many great values ​​and led by this visionary boss!

Emmanuel Faber had been facing assaults from two shareholders for several months. On the one hand the British activist fund Bluebell Capital Partners, on the other hand the American investor Artisan Partners. When we read the interview of Mr. Francesco Trapani, president and co-founder of the Bluebell Capital fund published in the newspaper “Le Monde” on February 27th, we notice that the eviction of our boss is only based on financial considerations . They are obviously very important and I do not have the competence to judge them. I notice, however, that within the ESG criteria that underpin responsible capitalism, there is the “E” for environment, the “S” for social and the “G” for governance. Emmanuel Faber was only judged on the “G”. It’s too bad! I feel the ousting of Emmanuel Faber as a slap in the face to all the employees of the group who believe in the need for another management of companies which reconciles the social, sustainable development and financial success. We did not give our boss time to succeed in his overall project. Such a waste !!

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