Air Liquide is, with Schneider Electric, one of the most brilliant industrial “success stories” of the decade in France. And the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the world number two in industrial gases (behind the German Linde), Benoît Potier, will leave a growing company to his successor in June. Deputy CEO, François Jackow, is expected to be appointed CEO after a vote at the general assembly in May. At 64, Mr. Potier will remain chairman of the board, the group said on Wednesday 1is December, in a press release.
Appointed Chairman of the Management Board in 2001, Mr. Potier became CEO in 2006. At Air Liquide, which has only known five bosses since its creation in 1902, we can summarize this return to the separation of functions at the head of the group ( adopted at Saint-Gobain and L’Oréal) with a simple formula: “Continuity and renewal. “
This transition was prepared smoothly, and for more than two years, within the appointments committee chaired by Jean-Paul Agon, former boss of L’Oréal. Mr. Jackow, 52, joined the company in 1993, notably managed the Europe Industries, Europe Healthcare and Africa-Middle East-India clusters.
Market capitalization multiplied by five
A new strategic plan will be presented in March 2022, but the group’s offensive strategy, which bears the mark of Mr. Potier, a discreet CentraleSupelec engineer, should not change, as it has been profitable. Under his tenure, its turnover doubled (more than 20 billion) and its market capitalization was multiplied by more than five, to reach 70 billion euros. A success also maintained by regular meetings of the CEO with individual shareholders, holders of a third of the shares.
The “Potter years” were marked by consolidation and development in its historic businesses of industrial gases (oil refining, etc.) and health products (medical oxygen in hospitals and at home, etc.), with the structuring acquisition of the American Airgas, in 2016, for 13.4 billion dollars (11.8 billion euros).
But they were also the opportunity to establish themselves on “Markets of the future”, such as the supply of gas to large Asian electronics groups. The future of Air Liquide is now being written in sectors such as aeronautics, space, IT and, above all, energy transition. Long supported by Mr. Potier, who often preached in the desert, low-carbon hydrogen has become a big business for Air Liquide, which plans to invest around 8 billion euros in it by 2035.
The departing boss firmly believes in its development and co-chairs, with the boss of the automotive supplier Faurecia, the national council created by the government to implement the French development strategy for carbon-free hydrogen. A sector where the State has promised to commit 7.2 billion euros over the decade, including 2 billion in 2020-2022.
Air Liquide has developed numerous partnerships, in particular with the energy company Engie and the German Siemens. In October, he announced the creation, with TotalEnergies and the construction and transport giant Vinci, of a fund dedicated to the financing of large renewable hydrogen and low carbon infrastructures.
The French trio have joined forces with manufacturers from across the Atlantic, such as the American pioneer of hydrogen Plug Power, the liquefaction specialist Chart Industries and the oil services group Baker Hughes. All the fund’s partners must invest 800 million euros in it out of a total target of 1.5 billion (with banks and insurance companies). It should make it possible, through a leverage effect, to participate in the development of projects to “A total amount of around 15 billion euros”, co-financed by loans and public subsidies.