PARIS, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Pierre Gadonneix, CEO of EDF EDF.PA, has planted the French power giant's footprint firmly in the Anglo-Saxon world, adding half of Constellation Energy's CEG.N American nuclear plants to a takeover of Britain's atomic power network.
With his tenure set to expire in Nov. 2009, the question is, will Gadonneix have the time to convince the rest of the world to join in a nuclear renaissance?
The French lead the world in civil nuclear power technology, a piece of Gallic savoir-faire little publicised in the U.S., and EDF, Europe’s largest utility by market capitalisation, operates the world’s largest network of power stations.
With this week’s $4.5 billion investment in Constellation, EDF is betting that its clean, lean EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) plants can fire up an industry largely stalled since the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster and provide a showcase for a world market.
Citing China, South Africa and Italy as future targets, Gadonneix told French media this week that EDF’s aim is to “take part as investor, builder and operator in the global rebirth of nuclear energy”.
Gadonneix, 65, who was born in New York and holds dual French-U.S. citizenship, could be the man to do it as his success in the U.S. and Britain shows.
“He’s pulled off a double coup and it was not easy. He got his strategy up and running in a satisfactory way,” said Colette Lewiner, head of utilities at French consultancy firm Capgemini.
Despite heading France’s state gas monopoly GDF for 17 years, Gadonneix held free market views which meant he was picked in Sept. 2004 to handle the controversial part-privatisation of sister company EDF by then Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
Unlike the immaculately coiffed, published poet Villepin however, Gadonneix, who turned down a teaching post at Harvard and prefers the boardroom to politics, is happier with a racquet in his grasp than a pen.
At EDF, where colleagues know him as ‘Gado’, the byword for the tennis-mad business leader is “tenacity”. His own favourite saying is derived from the sport -- “until the second bounce, the ball is still in play.” “Tenacity, yes,” said Jacques Mallard, a friend of Gadonneix who has known him for the last 35 years. Mallard heads up Optim Actif, a French asset management firm involved in property.
“What some people say, and you see it in the papers sometimes, is that he is not very enterprising, that he lacks daring. But I don’t think that is true. He takes risks, but they are calculated and under control. He knows his limits and goes no further,” Mallard told Reuters.
Gadonneix’s determination to keep the ball in play will be key in the months to come, as EDF digests its new U.S and British assets while sustaining a 35 billion euro ($50.32 billion) European investment plan and its next foreign targets.
(Reporting by Matt Gil; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)
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