French gas utility GDF Suez said on Friday it was changing its name to “Engie” to reflect an evolving energy sector and the group’s growing involvement in renewable power, marking a break from its former state monopoly past.
The change comes as Chief Executive Gerard Mestrallet prepares to pass the baton of the power and gas utility to his anointed successor and current deputy Isabelle Kocher after the 66-year old’s mandate expires in 2016.
“Why this name change? Because the world of energy is changing, we’re moving towards a less centralised, less carbon-intensive energy world, away from the centralised world of yesterday,” Mestrallet said at a press conference at the group’s skyscraper in the La Defense financial district of Paris.
Mestrallet also said “Engie”, pronounced like the 1973 Rolling Stones ballad “Angie”, was meant to accompany the organisation change along geographical lines rather than business sectors announced earlier this month.
Asked if dropping GDF, which stands for Gaz de France, meant the former state monopoly was breaking away from France, Mestrallet said: “A break with a new name doesn’t mean we’re casting off all moorings.”
The new name marks the end of the Gaz de France initials known by French people since the utility was created in 1946 with sister company Electricité de France by a Communist minister during France’s post-war reconstruction effort.
“GDF brought back memories of nationalisations. They’re clearly turning the page, the notion of public service is over,” said Marcel Botton, president of branding company Nomen.
“Gas has become a product like any other, they acknowledge that with the name change,” he told Reuters.
The change also drops the Suez name, inherited from the 2008 merger of GDF with Suez SA — the company that built the Suez Canal in the 19th century — leaving it to water utility Suez Environnement, spun off after the GDF Suez merger.
The French government still owns a third of GDF Suez. It is set to acquire double voting rights at the group’s shareholder meeting on April 28, which would clear the way for the treasury to sell part of its stake while maintaining influence.
GDF Suez, which took a record 15 billion euro writedown in 2013 as the economic crisis and vast overcapacities hit the value of traditional gas-fired power plants, has said it wants to double its renewable power capacity in Europe by 2025.