Thursday, February 21, 2013

“Incendiary!” “Insulting!” “Scathing!” French Vow to Retaliate Against Taylor's Titan International

Following the eruption of a furor in France after the blunt letter of a Yankee capitalist to a Socialist government minister — it made the front pages of, among others, Le Monde and the International Herald Tribune — the French vow to fight back. The fight was described in a previous NP post, as well as in Harvey Morris's New York Times blog:
Many in France are bristling over a letter from Maurice M. Taylor, the American tire tycoon, describing French employees as underworked and overpaid.

Writing to a government minister to explain why he would not step in to save a tire factory threatened with closure in northern France, Mr. Taylor, the chief executive of Illinois-based Titan International, recalled visiting the factory: “The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours.

“They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three, and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”

Mr. Taylor, who glories in a Wall Street nickname — The Grizz — that reflects his tough negotiating style, was writing to Arnaud Montebourg, France’s minister for industrial renewal, to explain why he would not be stepping in to save the doomed Goodyear plant in the northern town of Amiens.

“How stupid do you think we are?” he asked the minister in the Feb. 8 letter, a facsimile of which was published on Tuesday by Les Echos, the French business daily.

His blast touched a raw nerve in France, where both politicians and the press are sensitive to Anglo-Saxon lectures about the country’s alleged anti-business culture.

Virulent,” “unbelievable” and “incendiary” were among the adjectives used by the French press to describe Mr. Taylor’s missive in which he told Mr. Montebourg:

“You’re a politician so you don’t want to rock the boat. The Chinese are shipping tires into France – really all over Europe – and yet you do nothing.”

Mr. Taylor, a former welder who made a self-financed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, had already ruffled French feathers back in December when he said he was pulling out of a possible Amiens deal.

Referring to the regulatory barriers Titan had faced, he attacked France’s business practices as “screwed up” and said “only a non-business person would understand the French labor rules.”
An article on the front page of the International Herald Tribune (top left) by Liz Alderman also provides the back story along with the retaliation measures promised by the government as well as the communist CGT union — which wants to take Taylor to court.
Mr. Montebourg released a letter to Mr. Taylor, calling the [Titan International] executive’s comments “extreme” and “insulting,” adding that they pointed to a “perfect ignorance” about France and its strengths, which continue to attract international investors.

French media outlets minced no words. “Incendiary!” “Insulting!” and “Scathing!” were just a few of the terms replayed on French newspaper Web sites and on the airwaves throughout the day. The French blogosphere lit up with hundreds of remarks condemning the “predatory” American corporate culture that Mr. Taylor seemed to represent; other commentators who ventured to admit that there might be something to Mr. Taylor’s observations were promptly bashed.

And France’s main labor union wasted no time in weighing in. 

Mickaël Wamen, the head of the Confédération Générale du Travail union at the Goodyear plant, in Amiens, said Mr. Taylor belonged in a “psychiatric ward.” 

A spokesman for Mr. Taylor did not immediately respond to calls for comment. France’s 35-hour workweek, its rigid labor market and the influence that labor unions hold over the workplace have long been a source of aggravation for businesses. 

… In his response, Mr. Montebourg reacted strongly to what he called Mr. Taylor’s “condemnable calculation” and noted that France and its European partners were working to stop illegal dumping of imports. 
“In the meantime,” he added, “rest assured that you can count on me to have the competent government agencies survey your imported tires with a redoubled zeal.”

But is it unfair to give the last word to the Frenchman also providing the concluding words to Harvey Morris's New York Times blog?
… Daniel Schneidermann, a columnist for the @rrêt sur images Web site, said on Wednesday, “The Grizz doesn’t care whether he’s loved or hated. He reveals globalization in its true colors. He does it a thousand times better than all Michael Moore’s movies. Thank you, the Grizz.”
Indeed, Le Monde itself admits there is quite a problem with France. Denis Cosnard and Anne Eveno mention polls that show that 40% of directors of American company affiliates in France say that the country is a bad place to invest in, a huge increase from the 2011 figure of 15% and from that of 10% two years earlier.

Faut-il être "stupide" pour s'implanter en France, comme le clame M. Taylor ? Dans sa réponse, le ministre insiste sur le fait que la France reste une terre d'accueil privilégiée des investissements étrangers. "Plus de 20 000 entreprises étrangères représentant près de deux millions d'emplois" y sont installées, note-t-il, les sociétés américaines en tête. Chaque année, "on compte 700 décisions de localisation d'investissements étrangers (...) en France. Et cette solide attractivité ne s'affaiblit pas, tout au contraire, d'année en année, elle se renforce", assure le ministre.

L'image de l'Hexagone auprès des investisseurs étrangers – américains particulièrement – s'est néanmoins dégradée fortement depuis quelques mois. Un sondage effectué en octobre-novembre 2012 auprès des dirigeants de 52 filiales d'entreprises américaines le montrait clairement.

"Comment votre maison mère perçoit-elle la France ?", leur avaient demandé la chambre de commerce américaine en France et le cabinet de conseil Bain & Company. Comme une "mauvaise" destination d'investissement, indiquaient 40 % d'entre eux. Ils n'étaient que 15 % à donner la même réponse en 2011, et à peine 10 % les deux années précédentes. Seuls 22 % des responsables interrogés voyaient la France comme une bonne terre d'accueil, deux à trois fois moins qu'auparavant.

Et convaincre une maison-mère américaine, allemande ou finlandaise de choisir la France se révèle de plus en plus ardu, reconnaissent en privé bien des patrons de filiales françaises.