French power utility GDF Suez said on Friday it was changing its name to “Engie,” in a bid to reflect a changing energy industry and prepare for the departure of the company’s longtime chief executive Gérard Mestrallet.
Mr. Mestrallet’s scheduled exit comes after 20 years at the helm of a company he has transformed through a series of large mergers and acquisitions. He said he and his anointed successor Isabelle Kocher, who is currently GDF Suez’s deputy CEO, decided to change the name.
“I personify the construction of the group and its history, Isabelle personifies its future,” Mr. Mestrallet, 66, told a news conference as he unveiled the new name and a new logo.
He said the new name is shorter—two syllables instead of five—and is easier to associate with the group’s business: energy. The management decided to spell the name Engie—pronounced like the Rolling Stones song Angie—because it’s reminiscent of the French word “énergie” to keep faithful to its roots.
Ms. Kocher, 49, said the new name looks and sounds like a woman’s first name. Mr. Mestrallet said a female name is “a coincidence that doesn’t displease” him as the company will soon be run by two women, Ms. Kocher and CFO Judith Hartmann.
Ms. Kocher’s anticipated elevation to the top job would make her the only woman to run one of the 40 top French companies included in the blue chip index CAC 40.
Since he took over as CEO of Suez 20 years ago, Mr. Mestrallet has turned the 150-year-old company into a behemoth, with almost 150,000 employees in 70 countries. He successively merged it with water and waste utility Lyonnaise des Eaux—which was later spun off as Suez Environnement—Belgium’s Société Générale de Belgique, French state-owned utility Gaz de France and more recently U.K. utility International Power.
Most recently, under his guidance, the company has sought to expand mainly in Latin America and other emerging markets, as energy demand in Western Europe stagnated over the past few years. At the same time, European subsidies for renewable energy has made many conventional power plants unprofitable.
Mr. Mestrallet said the idea is to gradually place the company’s different units under the “Engie” brand.
The renaming of the company will cost GDF Suez several million euros, Mr. Mestrallet said, but that isn’t much for a company that reported sales worth close to €75 billion ($81.2 billion) last year, he added.
The new name will be set up gradually and approved definitely at the general shareholders’ meeting in mid-2016 when he is due to leave the company after reaching retirement age.
GDF Suez is the latest large French company to move to change its name in recent years, often to boost an international profile or to better reflect identity after asset disposals. Luxury and retail group PPR was renamed Kering SA in 2013 and France Télécom rebranded itself Orange SA that same year, while EADS was renamed Airbus Group NV last year.
By Inti Landauro