Bull CEO Bonelli dies on brink of turnaround

2 April 2004 Pierre Bonelli, one of the founding fathers of the European IT services industry, has died aged 64 after a long illness.

Bonelli, the founder of Sema, one of the first computer services companies in Europe, recently returned to prominence after taking embattled French technology giant Bull to the brink of an unlikely turnaround.

The news represented a poignant twist of fate for Bull, coming in the same week that the previously beleaguered company reported a small but symbolic annual profit, its first since 1999.

Bull is one of Europe’s oldest and biggest technology companies – with an especially strong presence in the UK public sector – and Bonelli, its leader, was judged one of France’s leading businessmen.

He came out of retirement in 2001, he said at the time, in order to help turn Bull around.

Bull had been in a downward spiral for several years, since its peak in 1998 when it recorded revenues of €3.8 billion. As sales slipped, it was forced to sell off a number of important assets, including its smartcard unit, which was once a world leader, and its enterprise resource planning consultancy.

Although Bull reported revenue of ‘only’ €1.2 billion for the year to the end of March 2004, it disclosed a net profit of €4.1 million, compared with a loss of €548 million the previous year.

The financial statement coincided with Bull confirming that it has finalised a debt restructuring plan.

Its financial stability still appears to rest largely with a €517 million bailout offer from the French government, one of Bull’s shareholders, however. The European Union is investigating the offer to see if it breaks rules on illegal state aid.

The company said it remained committed to carrying out the strategy that Bonelli defined and laid out for the company.

The new CEO of Bull has been named as Gervais Pellissier, its present chief operating officer and finance director.

Bull, meanwhile, paid tribute to the late chairman and CEO. “His tremendous professionalism and charisma have restored to Bull the courage and pride of being a recognised company in its field,” it said.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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