What does the phrase “Positive Business” mean to you?
The word positive can cover many areas. A so-called “positive” business is an activity that goes beyond the mere production of goods and services. And who is committed to his environment, to the public interest. And this is essential! A boss must think about the meaning of his company’s action and then determine the long-term orientation and key strategic lines.
What role does the raison d’être of the report you wrote together with Nicole Notat play?
The raison d’être makes it possible to connect the past with the present; it’s the DNA of the company. It has no economic significance, but rather is a matter of vision and meaning. This beautiful expression is also not theoretical, it is actually very practical. What is the defended cause? In which perspectives does it situate the company? A goal is a shared good that involves and aligns everyone. It’s something deep.
Goal is a very powerful concept! Anyone who makes an effort to define and share it realizes how much it mobilizes people’s minds. More than ever, business is at the center of political, social and economic life. The Glorious Thirties have had their day and the welfare state is disappearing. Today there is a real need to create a liberalism acceptable to all. However, the company arouses a certain mistrust in far too many people. By giving meaning and inspiration, the raison d’être promotes consensus. In the world of work, the meaning and why must constantly feed motivation, otherwise we lose people. But the meaning and the why can be found in many other social topics. It goes way beyond the business.
What was your motivation before writing the Notat-Senard report?
The strong correlation between political will and adherence to corporate spirit interested me, which is why I agreed to co-author the report on “the company, object of collective interest”. For if we do not embark on the path of peaceful and united liberalism, we are heading for very big trouble. We will have to create another model, which is neither classical Anglo-Saxon capitalism nor state capitalism. In France, the tone of the debates on this issue prior to the report was extremely lively. Our work has helped to calm the situation, even if the debate is not over. The line broadcast by Nicole Notat and me is balanced. The following ? It is primarily a passage for the Council of State, within the framework of the Pacte Act. Then there is a parliamentary debate.
Michelin is often cited for experimenting with the concept of the liberated company…
I prefer to speak of a responsible company. This concept is at a very mature level at Michelin, which has experimented with it on a large scale from 2010-2011. Employees take matters into their own hands at all levels of the company. It transforms their lives, it is very impressive in terms of results, autonomy and team involvement. I am very happy with it and very proud of it.
How do we achieve such a cultural transformation?
With a lot of method, training and the involvement of everyone, the general management, the managers, the employees, the unions. For example, we have been able to sign innovative social agreements in France. But if they seem very innovative, they are not based on self-direction, but on trust based on a common goal.
Does this declare your place as the number one employer in the United States?
It’s a happy surprise, but no coincidence. Well-being at work, the symmetry of attention, employees treated with the same attention as customers, all these form a theoretical corpus that has given rise to formidable practical applications at Michelin. This explains our spectacular rise in the Forbes rankings.
But won’t digital disrupt this beautiful order?
No, because our empowering approach paves the way for digital. The latter, by speeding up the deal, makes it clear that, as with rugby, the most important thing is making the pass rather than scoring the try. The hierarchical organization that does not realize this risks being unable to function in the long run.
You have prepared your succession with the same care for anticipation…
I thought about it from the day I was asked to be number one. Preparing for a succession means avoiding the risk of chaos at a moment as sensitive as that of a cultural transformation. I know Florent Menegaux [qui lui succédera en mai 2019, NDLR] since a long time. We live and work together in great trust.
What advice would you give a new boss about balance and values?
Everyone has their comparison. I don’t believe in the disconnection myth, it’s impossible to get out of the business you live with day and night. Wisdom, on the other hand, lies in delegation and empowerment.
Everything a number one does or says is obeyed, which is why I advocate consistency and the ability to know how to keep your feet on the ground. Another piece of advice: avoid this tendency to act like everything comes from you. I explain to groups of students how important it is not to miss your beliefs. This allows them to look at themselves in the mirror at the end of their career.
Ultimately, what is the most important role of a number one today?
It remains that of a conductor. And in an empowering company, this role is accentuated: giving meaning, defining and sharing the company’s raison d’être, checking the relevance of the main orientations resulting from it… The number one guarantees absolute consistency. Another point: people management. It is up to him to know how to motivate them and to respond to a growing hunger for autonomy, which I notice in the younger generations, but also in the others. This is one of the most important keys to retaining talent. Companies, not pretending to be safe havens, must rush to understand this.
How does he recover?
“Swimming does me a world of good! Read too. I have a passion for history and international politics: the Six Day War, the issue of the Middle East… My father, a diplomat especially in Egypt, passed on to me this passion for major geopolitical topics. †