An encounter with François Michelin, 20.01.2010

michelin Fraternal humility—the habit of serving others—far from being an obstacle to business is the condition for its success.  In forty years, François Michelin lead his company from tenth to first place in the ranking of the world’s largest firms in its sector.

By Alexandre Havard
(Translation from French, Anthony Salvia)
François Michelin was 28 years old when he took over as head of the large industrial concern, Michelin, in 1954. Ever since, he has occupied the office of Edouard Michelin, his grandfather and the founder of the company, who died in 1940.  It is a small space notable for its modesty. Some years ago, François Michelin received in his office an employee who was about to retire.   The employee recalled that when he was sixteen years old, his job was to deliver mail throughout the company.  One day, he was asked to deliver a letter to Edouard Michelin personally.  He knocked on the door of his office, and Edouard said, “Please come in, monsieur [trans., sir], and have a seat.”  This sign of respect on the boss’s part made a strong impression on the young employee.  Edouard’s words and demeanor remained in the employee’s heart from that day on.  The founder of the company showed deep respect for other people no matter the station they occupied in life.

François Michelin is heir to this tradition.  He is aware that “monsieur” is a contraction of “mon seigneur” [trans., my lord].  It means recognizing that each person is unique and possesses a part of the truth, which only he possesses.

When François Michelin speaks, his language is simple, accessible to all, a language that workers, trade unionists and managers understand:  “If I use simple words when I speak, it is to be sure I understand what I am saying.”   This is no mere witticism, but an expression of profound respect for the people he is addressing.

I recently visited Michelin at his company’s headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand in central France.  In our two and a half hour conversation, he had to take important telephone calls on three occasions.  These calls, as I learned later, concerned a campaign of calumny against him being waged in the media.  And yet Michelin did not seem in the least perturbed by the affair, which must have been very unpleasant for him.  He was completely absorbed in our conversation.  He would return smiling, apologize, look me straight in the eye, and pick up the conversation where we left off.  In François Michelin one observes self-mastery, serenity, and, above all, respect for other people, for each unique and irreplaceable person, and a strong desire to serve.

michelin 4“What strikes me about François Michelin,” says Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Reanult, “is the attention he pays to people, his concern to foster the growth of the people around him.  He has great ambition for his firm, but an ambition that is not destructive of those who are there to help him realize it… His interior self is even stronger than his captain-of-industry self.”

To serve others, first you have to know how to listen to them.   “Look at my ears,” François Michelin told us.  “They have fallen off.  It is my best qualification.”

For François Michelin “to help a person become himself, this is what counts above all.”  It was this spirit that allowed Marius Mignol, a typographical worker without formal education, to invent the radial tire that revolutionized the industry.  When he was hired, Mignol was supposed to work in the company’s print shop, but Edouard Michelin told the firm’s head of personnel: “Don’t judge by appearances…Remember that one must chip away at the stone in order to find the diamond hidden within.”

Mignol was assigned to a commercial position dealing with export markets.  One day, Edouard Michelin noticed a strange slide ruler on his desk.  Mignol had invented it to more quickly convert exchange rates.  Edouard exclaimed: “This man is a genius!”  Mignol turned out to be a man of extraordinary imagination.  He was transferred to the research division at a time when the conventional tire had reached its limits because of its tendency to overheat at high speeds.  To study the variations in heat inside the conventional tire, Mignol imagined a “fly cage,” as he called it.  He proceeded to design a tire whose sides were replaced by radial metallic cables with space between them.  The resulting tire proved revolutionary.  It was because Edouard Michelin was more interested in people than in things that Marius Mignol was able to discover his talents and put them at the service of others.

François Michelin’s respect for people and desire to serve them is not just a necessity of the spiritual order, an act of fraternal humility; it is also a matter of good sense.  “It is often said that facts are stubborn, but in reality it is we who are stubborn,” he says.  We refuse to accept facts; we refuse to accept the truth about man.  We fix our attention on things, whereas “the most powerful engine of enterprise, as Edouard Michelin liked to say, is human energy.”

Fraternal humility—the habit of serving others—far from being an obstacle to business is the condition for its success.  In forty years, François Michelin led his company from tenth to first place in the ranking of the world’s largest firms in its sector.

Virtuous Leadership in Nairobi, Kenya

HR participants Virtuous Leadership at Strathmore Business School

On Wednesday 27th October at Strathmore Business School a Roundtable discussion was held at the culmination ‘The Effective Director’ (TED) program. The Roundtable was an interactive forum moderated by Sunny Bindra (www.sunwords.com). It was an opportunity for the course participants to hear from seasoned directors who have been through many a board issue in their time, and glean some wisdom from their experience.

 

 

Copy of Alex SBS 2The Roundtable Panel comprised Francis Okello (Chairman, Barclays Kenya and TPS EA); Njeri Rionge (founder, Wananchi Online, and member of local and international boards); Jim McFie (Kenya’s renowned accounting teacher, and member of several boards); and Alexander Havard, Director of the Havard Virtuous Leadership Institute.

The following board issues were discussed: Working with the CEO: what is the correct relationship between board and CEO?  How should it be managed for best effect?  What might cause it to go wrong?

 

Copy of Kenya Conf 1Having a good board structure and composition are necessary conditions for board effectiveness, but they are not sufficient.  A good collegial culture that fosters harmony, trust and openness is often the vital ingredient.

Crisis management: how should the board react to a crisis situation?  What are the “do’s and dont’s” of board behaviour in a crisis?

Succession planning: this is a much-neglected process, often done badly.

 

 

Kenya, Conf Alex 1Participants at the seminar included Mr Linus Gitahi (Group CEO, Nation Media Group), Mr Jeremiah Kiereini (Director, UAP & EABL), Mr Charles Njonjo (Director, CFC Stanbic Bank), Gideon Muriuki (MD & CEO, Co-op Bank), Ms Rose Kimotho (Director, CFC Stanbic Bank), Grace Ngigi (Director, Insurance Regulatory Authority), Mike du Toit (MD, CFC Stanbic Bank), Edward Njoroge (MD, Kengen and Chairman, NSE), Frank Ireri (MD, Housing Finance), Mahmood Manji (Chairman, DTB)  and Zeph Mbugua (Director, Trans-Century).

On Friday 30th October at Strathmore Business School Alexandre Havard directed a session for people working in HR arena. Are leaders born or made? Is leadership an inborn talent or is it acquired? Is leadership about character or is it about reputation? These and more questions have been asked around what leadership really is. Strathmore Business School (SBS) took it a notch higher to impart what constitutes true and effective leadership: Is it about virtue or is it about talent?Havard spoke about Leadership being more than an inborn talent, but nurturing it within your character and virtuous character for that matter.

 
Leadership and Ethics, 6th annual Conference, at Strathmore University, 28-29 October 2009
The Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kenya and Strathmore University, in an effort to make a tangible, intellectual and scholarly contribution to the development of our societies, co-hosted the Annual Ethics Conference, which brings together a wide range of scholars, professionals, students and other stake-holders, with the aim of uplifting the ethical standards of Kenya in every professional sector and help curb corruption and improve sustainable profitability and fair development opportunities for all.

The world at large and Africa in a special way is crying for true and genuine leadership. True leadership involves directing others for the sake of the common good, and the obligation of leading others to the desired good. Although leadership and authority are often viewed as distinct realities, in practice persons in positions of authority shape the character of political communities. If leadership is to be more than mere manipulation, and public positions not abused for private gain, they must be understood within a comprehensive social and economic framework aimed at enhancing the common good.

The Conference put together a high level team of speakers to address issues related to the relationship between morality, leadership and law, including the ethical dimension of politics, the nature of political authority, the moral purposes of law and government, and the Media’s essential role in promoting the public welfare.

Paris: Presentation of the French translation of the book “Virtuous Leadership”

 

In March 2009 the French translation of “Virtuous Leadership” was published in Paris by Editions du Jubilé (Sarment) under the name “La Méthode Havard, Pour un Leadership Authentique”.