Florent Menegaux, president of Michelin: “There is no longer a collective dream in France”

He has chaired the Michelin group and its 125,000 employees for three years. For Florent Menegaux, the second five years of Emmanuel Macron should be an opportunity to rethink the role of the state, reduce its lifestyle and reorient it towards its sovereignist functions. In a country plagued by concern and fear for the future, the leader laments the absence of a “great narrative” capable of bringing the French together and regaining their confidence. “Our political leaders, like companies, must strive to recreate collective dreams,” he warns.

The Express: France looks more fractured than ever after this presidential election. Do you feel these tensions, this disenchantment within your company?

Florent Menegaux: The widening of inequalities, the bets of the purchasing power arouse tensions around the world. But in France there is, it is true, a more marked concern than elsewhere, a fear of the future that I do not perceive among our Spanish, Brazilian or Thai employees for example … It is a real death.- heart because our country he has extraordinary assets, but he is disoriented, looking for milestones. I explain this discomfort in the first place by the devaluation of work, which is often no longer considered a source of personal fulfillment, but only as a means to meet needs. However, this job must guarantee a decent salary. An alienating job, which you don’t find exciting, which wears you out physically and which also doesn’t allow you to live properly, is terrible and potentially devastating! This question of the meaning and revaluation of work is therefore central. I would add another imperative: to dream again of the French. There is no longer a “great narrative” capable of projecting us into the future with optimism, in epics that surpass us, as was the case with the conquest of space. The Americans, the Chinese still have that push and that long-term approach. This is no longer our case. I believe that our political leaders, like companies, must strive to recreate collective dreams, to shape the future, to be less afraid of it.

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This long-standing ode is almost a rehabilitation of planning …

Absolutely, but beware, not the Soviet planning, nor the Gosplan [NDLR : Organisme chargé de la planification en URSS] ! Planning involves organizing resources and making decisions. Determine your strategic priorities, and the technology sectors that will allow you to achieve your goals, knowing that you will not be able to be world champion in all areas. In the 1960s, France opted for aeronautics and nuclear power. Sixty years later, he is still reaping the fruits of those decisions. Today we are facing the same kind of challenges: to continue to weigh on a global scale, to build our future, which sectors should we bet on? This is the spirit of the France 2030 investment plan and it is naturally going in the right direction.

With the wave of a magic wand, imagine that you will be named Matignon tomorrow. What would be your priority project?

The priority of the priorities is education, which is the basis of everything: integration, inclusion, understanding of the world, optimism and self-confidence … From a young age we must return to learn to love effort, demand, knowledge. . It puts people in a position to express their talent, in a simple way. We suffer from a school system that favors the emergence of a small elite, but does not necessarily give the right keys to those who are not part of it. Everything needs to be reviewed, from top to bottom. Starting to regain a taste for science and rehabilitate math. I wonder who had the idea to get them out of the common trunk! For decades, we’ve turned math into a kind of obstacle course, a hyper-selection tool that has disgusted generations of students, especially girls. It’s dramatic. We are in the process of being considerably delayed when this was one of our strengths. And at the worst time! Because reasoning and math skills will be at the heart of tomorrow’s professions.

“Our Colbertist system is stifling initiatives”

In general terms, what role should the state play in today’s world?

I would like it to exercise its sovereignty functions as a matter of priority and to put the package in the areas where it is most expected: health, education, security and justice. Let him stop worrying about everything, let him deal with global issues and set the rules of the game … For the rest, let the localities and regions do their job! Our Colbertist system is stifling initiatives, and the overweight of the state largely explains our main handicap, which remains insufficient economic competitiveness. In France, to generate 100 euros of net margin, you are charged 140 euros in different taxes … This is twice as much as in Germany! And yet there is better, it was worse before the reduction of taxes on production, which is obviously a step in the right direction. But we are still completely off the mark. Businesses have too many expenses, because the lifestyle of the state is too high and because it assumes too many missions.

But which ones to give up when the need for state protection has never seemed so strong?

State management companies, for example. The state that regulates everything down to the smallest detail, even at the local level, when it could let the municipalities act. The many administrative layers that could be simplified … Look what has been done in the Baltic countries, where everything has been computerized. The sources of efficiency and savings are colossal! In the business world, entire teams are constantly mobilized to simplify and eliminate unnecessary processes. As soon as you grow up, you create complexity, it’s normal. It must be pruned constantly. On the contrary, the state accumulates layers without ever really removing them. From time to time there is a finding. At the beginning of his first term, Emmanuel Macron announced that he would simplify … Some things have been done, especially at the level of the tax administration. We have to go much further.

In recent days, the campaign has been particularly marked by controversy over the salaries of Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares. Understand that the amounts mentioned [NDLR, plus de 60 millions d’euros en comptant les bonus de performance] shock public opinion?

I will refrain from commenting on the remuneration of another director, but I can tell you about mine: it is significant in absolute terms (Editor’s note, 2.25 million euros in 2021, including 900,000 euros fixed). And I asked them to limit themselves, making sure my fixed salary was at the average of comparable French companies, no more, no less. It is normal for a variable remuneration system to reward performance, but here too, for me, this variable part is limited to a level that the supervisory board considers fair and reasonable. For the last fifty years, we have not paid enough attention to the problem of the distribution of wealth. The levels of pay observed in the United States and in certain groups seem difficult to justify in the current context. It is unhealthy to allow these pay gaps to widen.

So is it normal for politicians to deal with these issues, as Emmanuel Macron recommends? Or do you think companies are capable of self-regulation?

I don’t think the state should be involved in pay policy within companies. On the other hand, if it considers it necessary to regulate certain excesses, it has all the opportunities to intervene through taxes, tributes …

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On the eve of this new five-year term, what worries you the most? The inflationary shock? Social anger?

In a way, this goes back to what I was saying about education. My biggest concern is that technology exposes us to the complexity of the world in a much more intense and direct way than in the past. We are not all armed enough to face it. Suddenly, people face the climate challenge, a pandemic, the return of war to European soil, see inequalities widen, their purchasing power diminish … All this is extremely brutal and who suffers these waves face to face or unprepared may be tempted to respond violently. It’s a real risk, which I feel increases. And to which it is urgent to respond.


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