French lazy, says U.S. CEO

The CEO of U.S. tire company Titan International declined to invest in a French factory, writing that the "so-called workers" only put in three hours of work a day. His letter generated French outrage—and some attention to the fact that Michelin is 35 times as profitable as his company. [Reuters]


  1. The problem is not the laziness of the french, but the inadecuate bargaining power that the Unions offer in a globalized world.

    Of course is cheaper to move your factory to China, were there is almost no protection law for the workers. And our goverments, instead of putting levies on import of those pieces, they just wimp out and let the cheap products in.

    1. Yeah, but the French are lazy.

      I think the rise of cheap automation (robots) will help end the exploitation of labor in China.

      1. That’s more stereotype than reality. French productivity isn’t far below American and is generally within the top 5 or 10 countries in the world. It’s likely the prospect of paying additional benefits and the like that scared this CEO from a French operation… that and the fact that I’d reckon most tire production has moved to the developing world (Michelin included).

        1. I doubt facts had much to do with the CEO’s position. His response sounds like he’s simply ideologically blinkered and ideologically prejudiced, and reality just isn’t a factor. Judging by how many business rags similarly write editorials and slant from an alternative reality, it’s unfortunately probably not uncommon.

          1. I heard him interviewed by the BBC, and he was refreshingly candid, funny, and very much reality based. This story and others covering it misstate that he’s making a broad statement about French workers, but in the interview he made clear that it was the workers at his factory there that were the problem. The union rep straight up told him that he was going to get only three hours a day out of the seven that workers get paid for, because that’s just how they roll. He told them to get stuffed. Good for him.

          2. There was a situation where some workers got to work only a few hours not because it is “how they roll” but because orders for tires had become so rarefied there was little work to do, a situation the workers themselves found absurd.

          3.  “reality based” eh? The plant workers had their work hours reduced due to demand shortages, not because they take the longest tea breaks in the industry. He’s an idiot if he couldn’t understand that.

  2. As of the end of 2011, Michelin had 69 tire production facilities in 18 countries.  Their 2011 Annual Report (the most recent available) highlighted three giant new plants that they were planning to bring online in 2012 and 2013 — in Brazil, China and India.  I doubt if French labor laws are helping Michelin’s profitability. 

    1. Agreed. There’s also this corollary from Bill Gates:

      “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

      Meanwhile, I’m guessing “The Grizz” is the kind of executive who has a motivational poster for the benefit of employees that reads “Work hard, not smart!”

  3. I’ve dealt with a lot of US CEOs over the years. Multi-hour lunches; naps in their offices while their assistants field calls and visitors; “doing business” during working hours on golf courses or other sporting arenas; etc. The biggest problem, though, is that being a CEO has become divorced from industry: most CEOs nowadays have not worked their way up the ranks and have no idea how to perform the duties that enable the product or service offered by that company. They do not know the loyal long term employees or the problem managers who interfere or even demolish rather than shepherd good work by their staff.

    Surprisingly, this CEO is not like that: he did work his way up, and is CEO of a company he himself founded. So, really, there’s no excuse for his prejudicial stance that French workers are lazy. It’s almost like he’s been listening to Fox, Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and has believed everything he’s been told about those god-forsaken socialists. (And repeated the talking points while running for president, no less.)

    1. It’s not so surprising for me. I’ve dealt with a wide variety of CEOs as well, including ones like “The Grizz.” My reply to Marko Raos below explains why I’m not surprised at his attitude, and why he’d be attracted to the GOP and the messaging of the right-wing noise machine.

      I agree whole-heartedly with your first graf — it’s a real problem, the outcome of a B-school mentality that an MBA can be parachuted into an executive position at any company and run it well despite the all-too-common lack of knowledge you mention.

  4. “Montebourg’s antics drove London Mayor Boris Johnson to tell an international business audience that it seemed France was being run by left-wing revolutionaries.”  Yeah, right.  And Obama is a socialist.  If only.

  5. It’s common for the French to have 4-5 weeks of annual paid vacation (even for entry-level jobs, not just for employees who have worked for many years for the same employer.)

    Here in Canada, it’s standard to get 2 weeks when you start, and then get additional weeks after 2-5 years at the same place.

    As far as I know, outside of a few states, there isn’t even a guarantee of any paid vacation time in the US.  At least, not as part of laws or regulations.

    So Americans (and some Canadians) will say that the French must be significantly less productive on the whole, except that evidence shows that to be false.

    It seems that, when your employees can get a real chance to disconnect from their jobs and really relax, multiple times a year, they are happier and more productive for the times when they are at work.  Who’d-a-thunk it?

    One other thing: more paid vacation means that workplaces have to come up with better ways to cover for people who are out, since it happens more often.  I don’t have any evidence to back this up but if you’re from a country that offers more paid vacation on average, see if you can confirm the following: people will tend to be more open to delegating, and showing coworkers how to do part of their jobs, so that workplaces end up being more resilient to employee departures (whether temporary or permanent) and other forms of personnel changes.  This is something employers should keep in mind (and also worry when particular employees tend to be over-possessive of their own tasks and responsibilities.)

    1. Almost all European countries mandate a minimum of 4 weeks paid annual leave not including Public Holidays. 

      Here in England the legal minimum is 5 weeks plus 8 Public holidays for effectively 6.5 weeks.  

      Yes, notoriously Socialist-yet-Tory England.

  6. This is not the first executive to make this observation, nor will it be the last.    One can observe that the economy of France has been struggling for some time in a manner comparable to the rust belt states, only 20 years later.    Strong obstructionist unions can’t compete in a global economy, and France is learning this 20 years later than the American Auto industry did. 

    1. Strong obstructionist unions can’t compete in a global economy, and France is learning this 20 years later than the American Auto industry did.

      Germany has strong unions, pays its workers much more and only lost its place as the world’s largest exporter to China just a couple years ago. That was a nice bit of cliched anti-union yarn spinning. I applaud your efforts, right from the talking points playbook….. Furthermore, any remotely evenhanded look back at the U.S. auto industry will show that management, and horrible U.S. corporate culture was just as complicit in contributing to the decline of the U.S. auto industry.

      Also, I would wager that Scandinavian countries have even more generous labor benefits than France, yet their economies are much, much better than ours. Why is that Andy? “homogenous culture….blah blah blah…….”

      From lefty rag “Forbes”

      In 2010, Germany produced more than 5.5 million automobiles; the U.S produced 2.7 million. At the same time, the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits; the average one in the U.S. made $33.77 per hour. Yet Germany’s big three car companies—BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), and Volkswagen—are very profitable.

      How can that be? The question is explored in a new article from Remapping Debate, a public policy e-journal. Its author, Kevin C. Brown, writes that “the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.”

      1. Does the US even have a luxury car maker along the lines of Mercedes, BMW or heck, even Volkswagen’s Audi? I imagine the average price of their cars is double GM or Ford.

        1. I’m not sure all of those European car makers are strictly “luxury” brands. Most of them only export higher end models to the U.S., but it seems like all the taxis in Lisbon are Benzes.  Daimler also makes trucks and buses and other big commercial vehicles. 

          1. I’m sorry, but you’re clueless. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and the like are all luxury car brands. Yes, they make some cheap stuff, but their consumer vehicles are considered luxury.

          2. When I was in Germany years ago, it did seem like BMW was not a luxury brand at all – there were luxury model BMWs, but also entirely economically sensible ones.  I met several people in thoroughly working-class jobs who drove BMW economy cars.

        2. U.S. car makers offer a variety of models from higher end luxury to budget models. Not sure why that would validate ChicagoAndy’s comment that you can’t compete when you have unions. Clearly not the case.

      2. Probably one reason is because of the prices they charge for their cars. Have you actually seen what a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi costs? It’s a lot more than what GM is charging, or Ford.

        “horrible U.S. corporate culture was just as complicit in contributing to the decline of the U.S. auto industry.”

        Shitty cars is more likely. They were making gas guzzlers, and crap cars with crap build quality. Generic interiors that they put in numerous different car models. Shit like that and poor leadership is why they declined.

        As for your comparison of how many vehicles Germany and the U.S. produced, Germany has many more auto companies than the U.S., and export more of their cars throughout the world. These companies also build a better car, but also at a higher premium.

        Cars have always been Germany’s #1 export.

        1. Shitty cars is more likely. They were making gas guzzlers, and crap cars with crap build quality. Generic interiors that they put in numerous different car models. Shit like that and poor leadership is why they declined.

          Exactly. Quantity over quality, short term profits over long term thinking. Exactly as I said: U.S. corporate culture.

          You will find that Germany, Japan etc. have much different styles of worker/management interaction particularly where worker input is concerned,and fundamentally different ideas of what workers and management are rewarded for.

          I’m still not seeing ChicagoAndy’s commented about “strong unions” being backed up in any way.

          Check this out:

          It’s not really kind to unions or management, but it does illustrate that American work culture itself is more of the problem. There other more prosperous countries than us with much stronger unions. Furthermore, seeing as U.S. union membership is at its lowest in history, the notion that unions are the problem is obviously completely ridiculous.

    2.  “Strong obstructionist unions can’t compete in a global economy,” so unions should negotiate away everything they’ve gained in the last century, and let the managers and stockholders have their way.  That’s worked out really well for US unions, hasn’t it? 

      Maybe it’s time to try something different.  Bravo France.

  7. I read this yesterday in the FT and thought it was hysterical. But they omitted the 35x profitability factor angle. Now I think this is the funniest business story I’ve ever heard!

  8. US CEO prefers Chinese Labour, (some of the weakest in the industrial world), against France’s, (some of the strongest in the industrial world).  He also acts like an all around asshole.

    Pretty much par for the course.  He also mentions SELLING them to France.  One of the things that makes France such a great consumer is their high wages and lots of free time.  Most companies forgot how prosperous the US was before outsourcing began.

  9. “Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one Euro per hour wage and ship all the tires France needs,” he said. “You can keep the so-called workers.”

    Love that this piece of garbage is boasting about this. And people are often mocked when they portray 1-percenters as cartoon villains……

  10. “…Titan International’s Maurice “Morry” Taylor, who goes by “The Grizz” for his bear-like no-nonsense style…”

    Only a Communist traitor would appear on the California state flag.

    Also, does he shit in the woods?

    1. For “The Grizz,” it probably is that hard.

      He’s an old-school guy in his late 60s who clawed his way to the top in what is no doubt an unpleasant smokestack business, probably sacrificing time with his own family and putting aside his own leisure activities for decades. For this kind of person, money becomes the only worthwhile measure of success and work by definition should be all-consuming and miserable — for everyone. He suffered, why shouldn’t others?

      I doubt this spiteful attitude is helped by his “bear-like no-nonsense style,” which I believe is in the Reuters stylebook as one of the family-friendly replacements for “bullying *rsehole.”

      1. Funny, as a post war baby while climbing the ladder he’d have enjoyed a lot of the prosperity that boomers did from strong unions, progressive tax rates, etc. etc.  Like so many others he wants to kick that ladder away now. Thank the idiot boomers fucking with prosperity and ushering in Reagan, neoliberalism etc… The rest of us get to pay..

  11. The Grizz: “Why don’t you work harder?  I could be richer if you worked harder!”

    The French: “Why do I care if you’re richer?”

    1. I had a job where a boss told me to do something or she wouldn’t get her bonus. I lasted about two months there.

      1. “This department needs to meet these goals or I don’t get my bonus. Therefore, if anything is stopping you, tell me and I’ll get it fixed.” is a gottdam wonderful thing to hear from a manager.

        But when they stop at the end of the first sentence it’s really time to start writing your resume.

  12. My experience with French workers is not laziness.  It’s how they handle contracts.  They are VERY literal with their contracts.  Variations do NOT exist.  If the contact says “Build these stairs up to the wall and stop 1 foot away” they’ll do that.  They will not accept a variation no matter how much money you offer.  THAT is a seperate contract to be addressed on completion of the current contract.

    Can make things exciting when dealing with government level contracts.

    1.  I’m actually sort of surprised Americans aren’t more famous for this sort of thing – with their system for civil law suits, you’d think this would be endemic.

  13. I came across an article a couple of years ago that was rather interesting.  If you look at a country’s $GDP/labor-hr, the average French worker contributes slightly more per hour to the country’s GDP.  I think it was $24/hr for a French worker vs $23.50 for a US worker.

  14. CEO’s these days seem to be permanently jet lagged from a celebrity tour of conventions and meetings with other CEO’s who are too busy to see them. Its about time they hired some decent PR people so that they could get on with running the companies they are ignoring. The French have insolent trade unions who truly believe that they don’t have to do any work to get paid and that anyone who works too hard is a traitor. But on the other hand their economy is surprisingly healthy considering how many in it are getting a free ride. They also have a reasonable minimum wage that stops the tax payer having to subsidize freeloading companies employing slave labor.

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