The State in favor of a marriage between Thales and Atos

For a year, the defense group has been eyeing Atos’ cybersecurity activities. The ministries let Thales maneuver to create a French champion in the sector.

Atos is in disarray. Ten days ago, the IT services group presented its strategic plan which aims to split into two branches: IT services on the one hand, cloud and cybersecurity on the other. A dismantling which caused a real flight of investors, also frightened by the surprise departure of the general manager Rodolphe Belmer. Atos’ stock price collapsed by 40% in ten days and suffered an 80% loss in one year.

The government said it was “attentive” to the future of Atos, which provides cybersecurity for the French army and supercomputers for NATO. Three players, already present in this sector, are interested in this nugget: Thales, Orange and Airbus. Three groups of which the French State is the reference shareholder which will be at the heart of the restructuring of Atos.

“We have to go further and think about reorganizing the sector around two actors instead of four,” a former member of the government recently confided to us.

Creation of a French champion

Thales is, by far, the most offensive to take the lead. He has been eyeing this nugget of Atos in cybersecurity for a year. [Le récit des coulisses sera à lire vendredi sur notre site]. In February, he joined the American fund Bain, owner of the French Inetum, to consider a takeover of Atos. Immediate refusal of the company and the State to calm things down. “The government does not want an aggressive movement, explains a good connoisseur of the file. of defense and close to the State”.

And Thales in favor of the public authorities. The group is positioned at the crossroads of the ministries concerned by the future of Atos. That of the Economy holds 26% of its capital and that of the Armies is its client for its cybersecurity, combat software and its partner within Naval Group for submarines. Thanks also to its shareholder Dassault Aviation (25%), its CEO Patrice Caine has all his entries into the “French Pentagon”.

It is also the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) which “sounded the alarm bell three months ago”, explains a source close to the group, when she observed the tensions between the director general of ‘ Atos, Rodolphe Belmer, and the chairman, Bertrand Meunier. She is worried about the future of this cybersecurity activity and “still campaigns for the creation of a French champion who is close to her” explains a good connoisseur of the “DGA”.

Bercy in the front row

Thales also benefits from the full support of Bercy, its largest shareholder. “Patrice Caine would never have led an offensive in such sensitive areas without the approval of his major shareholders” explains one of his relatives. “A boss who has the state as a reference shareholder does not start without his green light” confirms a manager of a company in which Bercy is also a capital. A senior executive of Thales goes even further: “the director of the Treasury sits on the strategic committee and validates, in fact, any strategic movement”. For his part, Emmanuel Moulin “denies playing any active role in this file”. His voice weighs all the more as he remains very close to Bruno Le Maire, of whom he was the powerful chief of staff for three years.

However, in recent months, interlocutors from the Ministry of the Economy have also distilled more open messages to Atos leaders. “They will not oppose foreign investors as long as the interests in cybersecurity are preserved” specifies a close friend of the group. A façade speech so as not to be taxed with protectionism. Even if in reality, several investment funds have given up entering the capital of Atos for a year, fearing to come up against the French State.

The way seems all the clearer for Thales, which is much more determined than its rivals. Airbus lacks motivation. “We want to develop in cybersecurity by partnership but not by major acquisition, explains a manager of the aeronautical group. It is too far from our profession as an aircraft manufacturer”. Same story at Orange. “The group has just changed its two leaders and does not have the means to move today”, explains a leader of the telecom operator who nevertheless ensures to look at the file. Too bad for Atos, which would have preferred an alliance with Orange to counter the ambitions of Thales.

Matthew Pechberty Journalist BFM Business

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