Benoît Potier will bring the curtain down on more than 20 years of leadership as CEO of Air Liquide next year, with François Jackow confirmed to succeed him from 1st June 2022.
Potier will remain in his role as Chairman of the Board.
The transition and the group’s leadership succession plan was unanimously approved at a meeting of Air Liquide’s Board of Directors on 30th November.
It’s a succession plan which will see the implementation of a new governance structure and separation of the roles of Chairman and CEO for the first time in more than 15 years at Air Liquide. The Board of Directors ‘expressed its conviction’ in this new form of governance, within the framework of this succession, and welcomed the fact that the group will retain the benefit of Potier’s successful experience in the two roles.
At the time of the decision, Potier has managed the Air Liquide Group for 20 years and chaired the Board for 15 years.
It’s a hugely successful period of leadership for the Paris-based business, which has seen the group more than double in size and increase its market capitalisation five-fold. Under Potier’s transformation, Air Liquide has also positioned itself at the forefront of healthcare, digitisation and the energy transition and hydrogen in particular – with arguably its best years still to come as a result.
Potier was typically focused on that future as he reflected, “I am delighted by the future appointment of François Jackow as CEO. The selection process has been exemplary. François Jackow is someone I know very well. His professional and human qualities are appreciated by all. His experience in the field, his strategic vision and leadership are paired with a firm commitment to the group’s values.”
“We have a long history of working well together. He has my full trust, as well as that of the Board. With this change of governance, which combines continuity and renewal, the group is starting a new chapter in its history which coincides with the launch of our new strategic plan to be presented in March 2022. For my part, I am looking forward to continuing to fully contribute to the success of the Air Liquide group, as Chairman.”
François Jackow joined Air Liquide in 1993. After a wide-ranging, international career, he has the benefit of his extensive experience of the group, combining strategic vision and knowledge of its business lines.
A member of the Executive Committee as Executive Vice-President, Jackow is notably in charge of Europe Industries, Healthcare in Europe and Africa, Middle East & India.
The group’s Global Healthcare activity,as well as the Innovation, Technologies, Digital and IT functions are also under his supervision, in addition to the group’s Customer orientation strategy.
Jean-Paul Agon, Chairman of the Appointments and Governance Committee, stated, “Our committee has been working on Benoît Potier’s succession plan and the future governance of Air Liquide for over two years. Several high-quality candidates were considered.”
“François Jackow’s level of experience, skills and personal qualities were assessed by the Board as being particularly in line with the group’s performance and development strategy. His appointment was recommended to the Board of Directors with Benoît Potier’s full agreement.”
What happens next?
When the Air Liquide Board meets at the close of the 2022 Shareholders General Meeting, it will be asked to renew Benoît Potier’s term of office as Chairman of the Board of Directors and to appoint François Jackow to succeed him as CEO with effect from 1st June 2022.
The General Meeting will also be asked to appoint François Jackow as Board Director.
A new era for Air Liquide…and the industry
Analysis by Rob Cockerill, Global Managing Editor
First we heard of the succession planning at Linde plc, in October, with Sanjiv Lamba to take over as CEO from 1st March (2022). We now know there’s to be change at the top of its heavyweight Tier One competitor, Air Liquide, too.
The very top leadership roles of these huge Tier One players seldom change hands very often, and particularly so if those companies are performing well. Just look at the tenure of Benoît Potier here: 20 years as CEO, 15 years as Chairman.
That’s why it’s so fascinating to see succession planning in progress. We’d actually hypothesised internally at gasworld during the summer months about these two key positions – and we’d identified these two incoming CEOs as the most likely candidates for the roles. Both have longevity, likeability and outstanding track records.
In many respects, they’ll both need to draw upon all of that expertise, experience and guile. Their leadership of these mega businesses will come at an exciting, if not transitional, time for the industry as a whole. In fact, it’s arguably the most opportunistic time for the industry and those leaders within it and, equally, the most challenging.
The Air Liquide Board of Directors publicly expressed its warmest thanks to Potier for the ‘fundamental transformation of the group’ under his leadership, and rightly so. Not only has the group doubled in size in that time, he has positioned the company in a very favourable position to face the challenges of the coming decades. Sometimes, I think his achievements actually go a little under the radar, not least all the hard yards in hydrogen and the future hydrogen economy.
He has truly laid the groundwork for his successor to follow and, just like Lamba at Linde, Jackow now has to continue to lead on that path forward into a whole new period for the industry. For any of the top executives in the industry, it isn’t going to be just about building footprint, delivering strong margins and carving out new growth drivers as we may have seen in years gone by. This is a time of juggling all of those core goals against a backdrop of megatrends that challenge and stimulate the gases industry.
Huge opportunities exist in decarbonisation and sustainability, with the industry undoubtedly at the forefront of this transition – but those same opportunities come with their own challenges. The industry itself has to decarbonise and move to a new footing. Sustainability is the number one objective. Decentralisation of supply chains is another key trend, while the continued digitisation of the industry must not relent.