French Productivity Questioned by U.S. Exec, French Government Fires Back: So, What’s the Real Story?

Flying through the Twittersphere and elsewhere was a scathing letter from an American executive in the tire industry to French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg. French daily Les Echos got hold of a copy and published it in all its glory. In sum, he calls the French lazy.

In the letter, dated Feb. 8, Titan International TWI Chairman Maurice Taylor tells the French minister exactly why his company walked away from buying a plant that Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. GT is shuttering in northern France. The French government had apparently contacted Titan in a bid to get Taylor to reconsider.

Here’s one translation, compliments of Bloomberg, of Taylor’s communique to that French minister:

“I have visited the factory several times. 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 the French union workers this to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”

Titan, manufacturer of both Titan and Goodyear branded farm tires in North America, made the decision back in December 2011 to give up on a two-year plan to buy that French operation, owing to opposition from unions. Just over 1,000 jobs are on the line. Goodyear had said in 2009 that it would shut down much of its French tire manufacturing and would consider selling a chunk of its farm-tire business. (Seeking Alpha referred to Goodyear as a “cigar-butt investment” just a day ago.)

The letter gets better, though (again thanks to Bloomberg for translating), throwing in the word “stupid” for good measure:

“Sir, your letter says you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government. The French farmer wants cheap tires. He does not care if the tires come from India or China and these governments are subsidizing them. Your government doesn’t care either. ‘We’re French!’ ”

Of course, this letter seems to be on par for the course for Taylor, nicknamed ‘The Grizz” by Wall Street for his tough negotiating style, according to his own blog.

And it’s hardly fair to draw the conclusion that all French workers are lazy. David Thebault, head of quantitative sales trading at Global Equities in Paris, responded to a request for local comment, saying it’s “nonsense” to assume French workers take three-hour lunches. “If it was the case would we have had the best productivity of the world during the last century?!”Be that as it may, it’s hardly a secret that French laws protect workers almost to a fault. As for that productivity, a World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness for 2011-12 ranked France No. 18 on a global productivity scale, with its infrastructure 4th in the world and a rank of 14th on the “business sophistication pillar.” But its labor market is ranked 113th because of strict firing-and-hiring rules and “a rather conflict-ridden labor-employer relations in the country.”

About the Author

Mona Pearl

Mona Pearl is a strategic advisor working with entrepreneurs and top management in companies wishing to fully tap into their global potential. She speaks six languages, has lived on three continents and has been involved in more than 20 startups as well as the expansion of many established companies. She has served as COO/CMO for three companies and helped build and scale ventures in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, while establishing an international network of contacts.