February 5, 2020 / 1:17 PM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 2-Engie's CEO Kocher on the brink of exit in French power struggle - sources

* Kocher is France’s only female CEO running major company

* Kocher looking for second mandate as CEO

* Some strategic decisions have split the board

* Share performance has been lacklustre (Updates with more sources, writes through)

By Benjamin Mallet and Michel Rose

PARIS, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Directors of energy group Engie will decide on Thursday whether to keep Isabelle Kocher as chief executive, in a boardroom struggle that has spilled into France’s political arena and was likely to end in her exit, two sources said.

Kocher became the only female boss of a major French company four years ago, but her mandate has been far from smooth, overshadowed by an early tussle over whether she would also take the chairmanship, and management disagreements over strategy.

These have now taken on a political hue, with figures like left-leaning Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo rallying to defend Kocher in public, while the state, which holds 24% in Engie, will have a key role in deciding her fate.

The government confirmed on Wednesday that Engie would hold an extraordinary board meeting on Feb. 6.

Kocher’s position would be up for discussion, a source close to the board said, accelerating a process the utility had hoped to deal with at a later date. Engie publishes earnings later in February and Kocher’s tenure expires in May.

A government source said the state was unlikely to approve renewing her mandate if the rest of the board was against it.

The source close to the board said staff representatives would follow the stance of the government, which was likely to vote to oust Kocher.

Engie declined to comment, while a finance ministry official said the state’s position would only be made clear at the Thursday meeting.

The infighting over Kocher has shone a light on some of the unwieldy aspects of a company born out of the former monopoly for gas transportation in France, and which the state had hoped could be a candidate for privatisation.

It groups together several businesses with little synergy between them, including capital-intensive gas infrastructure and labour-intensive energy services, a fast-growing renewable energy arm and a legacy nuclear unit in Belgium, which plans to phase out atomic energy.

Kocher’s critics have pointed to a lacklustre share price performance under her tenure, and internal grumblings over the way she communicated with the board as well as her push to drop fossil fuel assets as some of the reasons she has lost backing.

Kocher defended her record in a newspaper interview on Sunday, saying order books were full and the share price was rising, while Hidalgo and some green party politicians have praised her push in renewable energy.

Engie shares were down 0.8% at 1621 GMT on Thursday. They are up just over 13% since May 2016, versus a 31% rise in France’s CAC 40 blue chip index.

Possible replacements for Kocher could come from inside or outside the company, but all names being circulated so far were women, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

Chairman Jean-Pierre Clamadieu would temporarily take the CEO role if Kocher was ousted, two other sources familiar with the matter said. (Reporting by Benjamin Mallet, Dominique Vidalon, Gwenaelle Barzic, Leigh Thomas and Michel Rose; Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Elaine Hardcastle)

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