Belgian rail boss Sophie Dutordoir’s mandate to be extended by six years

Sophie Dutordoir will be the CEO of the Belgian public railway company NMBS/SNCB for another six years. That is what the newspapers De Tijd and Le Soir write. Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) will present the mandate extension to the government this Friday.

In March 2017, Dutordoir was appointed managing director of the National Railway Company of Belgium for a six-year term, with the option of a renewable six-year term. Gilkinet thus wants to lift that option and extend it to 2029.

According to De Tijd, Dutordoir has asked that it would be “a unanimous choice of the government”, and that the decisions of the renewal of the mandate “would be taken within the foreseen deadlines, out of respect for the rules of good governance”.

Strong character

In February 2021, there was a breach of trust between Gilkinet and Dutordoir over the closure of ticket offices in 44 stations. According to Dutordoir, the decision had been discussed with the minister beforehand, but the minister afterward publicly asked for the decision to be withdrawn.

In a letter, Dutordoir then spoke of “a public overruling” that “caused a severe breach of trust with me”. Gilkinet then said he had a good relationship with Dutordoir. “Sophie Dutordoir is someone with a strong character: sometimes very pleasant to work with, sometimes very difficult.”

New management agreement

That the folds between Gilkinet and Dutordoir meanwhile have been ironed out since that clash was already evident from the new management agreement negotiated afterward. Last year, and with a 10-year delay, the government and NMBS/SNCB, and railway manager Infrabel reached an agreement, on a new management contract for the next ten years, a first.

The targets of that new management contract are not small: 30% more passengers, increasing train capacity by 10% and replacing half the trains (most trains are 25 years old on average) and that with a budget of 43,8 billion euros.

Compliments

In the note for the council of ministers that De Tijd and Le Soir were able to see, Gilkinet throws flowers, also because she managed to bring some calm to NMBS/SNCB after a very turbulent period. “Over the past six years, Sophie Dutordoir has demonstrated her ability to manage a public company like NMBS/SNCB and make it work well. The board of directors has regularly judged this positive.”

The note goes on to say that Dutordoir also contributed to “a calm and constructive social dialogue in the company”, even though there were some strikes. “It appears that Sophie Dutordoir is the right person to continue the mission of leading the NMBS/SNCB toward new horizons focused on the modal shift and the ambitions of the government to make rail the backbone of mobility.”

Former Electrabel CEO

Ghent-born Sophie Dutordoir (60) worked for the energy company Electrabel for almost a quarter of a century before starting her own dainty business in Overijse in 2014.

From 1984 to 1989, she also acted as a spokesperson for several CVP ministers (now CD&V) and was an advisor to the prime minister. But at the end of 2017, she thus succeeded Jo Cornu as CEO of NMBS/SNCB.

Dutordoir is also an independent board member of Voka, bpost, BNP Paribas Fortis, Arvesta, and French car supplier Valeo. She also sits on the advisory committee of Tourism Flanders.

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