CEO of U.S. Tire Company Gets into Fight with All of France

American CEO Maurice "the Grizz" Taylor's bashing of France's work ethic generates angry response from a proud and insulted country—whose productivity turns out to be better than conservative detractors admit.

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Michel Spingler / AP

Employees of the Goodyear tire company in Amiens are seen in front of their plant, in northern France.

What’s French for “cat fight”? Ask American businessman and would-be industrial investor Maurice Taylor, who has provoked la France entière by claiming the “French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours.” In doing so, Taylor mockingly dismissed French government invitations to invest in a struggling tire factory in northern France.

“How stupid do you think we are?” Taylor asked in a letter sent to French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who had asked the CEO of the Titan International tire company to invest in a money-losing Goodyear plant in Amiens. The notoriously hard-edged Taylor maintained the factory suffers from the same lame work ethic, coddled labor force, union domination and protection of feckless politicians he seems to see plaguing the wider French economy.

“You can keep the so-called workers. Titan has no interest in the Amiens North factory,” Taylor said in a double-barrel missive revealed by the French media Feb. 20. “Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour and ship all the tires France needs.”

(MORE: Goodyear’s French Nightmare)

That’s exactly the kind of business ethos assured to enervate Montebourg—a crusading leftist cabinet member who has repeatedly locked horns with bosses over job cuts. Last year Montebourg threatened to nationalize French units of Arcelor Mittal over what he called the steel giant’s “lying” by ignoring promises not to close plants. In replying to Taylor’s broadside, Montebourg scorned  the CEO’s “extremist insults” of France as a reflection his “perfect ignorance of what our country is.”

Perhaps, but Taylor’s tarring of the Amiens operation succeeded to obtain what may have been a broader objective: using it as a broad brush to tarnish a purportedly pampered, work-averse French society—one the 1996 GOP primary candidate doesn’t seem too fond of. Indeed, in deriding the Goodyear workforce thatgets paid high wages but…get(s) one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three,” Taylor seemed to be shaking a fist at the entire French socioeconomic model and protective welfare state that American ultra-conservatives hate as iconic of enormous government and sky-high taxes. Given that vibe, it was little wonder that French politicians from both left and right joined pundits denouncing Taylor’s attack. Even Laurence Parisot—head of France’s main pro-business advocacy organization—objected to the American’s comments as “a shocking generalization” and “unacceptable.”

Those weren’t the only emotions surging. The French daily le Parisien actually sounded hurt Feb. 21 when it ran a front-page headline declaring, “No, the French Aren’t Lazy!” Reports elsewhere revealed that Goodyear employees working reduced hours in Amiens do so at management’s requests in response to slumping activity. Harder-hitting French commentators took aim at the avowedly right-wing Taylor, and poking fun at his ferocity-inspired nickname, “the Grizz”—a bearish association he shares with Sarah Palin. True to that company, left-leaning daily Libération described Taylor as “an extremist used to provocations.” In other words, exactly the kind of American businessperson France and most Europe wants nothing to do with.

(MORE: Too European To Fail: New EU Banking Safety Net Takes Shape)

So who wins the battle of the trans-Atlantic stereotype bashing? Perhaps Taylor, judging from the sense of hurt in France. But numbers suggest the French don’t come off too badly when Taylor’s Gallic stereotypes are viewed from other angles.
Statistics compiled by international organizations routinely find French workers among the most productive in the world in terms of GDP per hours worked. Numbers from 2011 rank, French employees seventh globally in per hour productivity—three places (but less than 3% behind) the U.S. workforce. French labor productivity per hour actually exceeds that of Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. when calculated in adjusted euro figures. That reputation-defying efficiency has also helped make France the ninth-largest recipient of foreign direct investment in 2011 with $40.9 billion—third among European Union members. Not bad for a place where everybody supposedly takes lunch breaks and talks all day.

Yet rather than advancing what some critics say may be manipulated stats, Montebourg preferred to match Tayor blow for blow. “Can I remind you that Titan, the company you head is 20 times smaller than Michelin, the French technology leader with a global reach, and 35 times more profitable?” Montebourg replied to Taylor’s letter. “That shows the extent to which Titan could have learned and gained enormously from a French base.”

Perhaps someone now may ask the Grizz what the French is for touché.

38 comments
KoselaPatryk
KoselaPatryk

@GreKwo Dialogu nie było, to jest dyktat. Czy choć jedno co w ramach "dialogu" dano, a nie odebrano pracownikom? Nie.

klebour
klebour

"Perhaps someone now may ask the Grizz what the French is for touché."

I believe the French for touché is touché!

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

MEMO TO TIME MAGAZINE:  Montelbourg is comparing apples to oranges when looking at Titan v. Michelin.

Michelin's size, reach, and profitability dwarfs that of Titan's.  Thus, those profits may be used for expansionary activities (i.e. purchasing), or for re-investing in the employees.  As per the article, Michelin employees are the benefactors of this kind of corporate re-investment (whether union-mandated or not).

On the other hand, with lesser available profits, Titan is nowhere near as able to provide such luxuries to its employees.  Titan must exercise added caution when deciding how to plot the strategic goals of the organization.  Therefore, Titan cannot afford a 1/3 ROI (Return On Investment) from investing in a company who's workers are productive for only 1/3 of the work-day.

So, before TIME Magazine deems Montelbourg's comment as "touche-worthy," TIME might want to re-examine the implications of Monelbourg's illogical comparison.

Greg_LW
Greg_LW

@TIME @TIMEWorld He was talking of the disincentivised & non competitive undemocratic EU where failure is subsidised & achievement penalised

Greg_LW
Greg_LW

@TIME @TIMEWorld US tyre company CEO enrages the French http://t.co/7eHUPevI9r Clearly the truth hurts. Political Correctness no defence!

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Ah kinda mean really... FREEDOM FRIES FOREVER WITH A SIDE OF FREEDOM TOAST!

 It sure would be nice if factory workers were treated like people deserving a living wage for hard and dirty work.

TheCycad
TheCycad

@moorehn France has a much healthier work ethic than we do in the US. & Why listen to the opinion of some loudmouthed rubber merchant?

rentpayer
rentpayer

@TIME @TIMEWorld France 60 000 000 - ceo 1

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

Then Maurice'd go ballistic if he ever went to Brazil and saw what goes on THERE! And they pay more taxes (through the nose) than anybody else.

DavidHamilton
DavidHamilton

Note that Taylor bragged about only paying his Chinese workers the equivalent of $1.50 an hour.

manxmidge
manxmidge

“@TIME: France runs amok after U.S. CEO's bashing of the country's work ethic | http://t.co/bbowFk8zez (via @TIMEWorld)” < so true tho!

mdzakiansari
mdzakiansari

I have managed over a hundred thousand workers in India - my country, for years and I understand our men. Even our Indian workers will find this fellows comments as insensitive and insulting to all workers of the world.

Nowhere1111
Nowhere1111

Not only arrogant, but apparently uninformed as well. Sounds like the typical greedy NeoCon CEO who ships jobs to the 3rd world.

Ianonim
Ianonim

Une vision US sur l'affaire Titan RT @TIME: France runs amok after U.S. CEO's bashing of the country's work ethic http://t.co/Fs9QS6xrrV

jerry48
jerry48

for decades these " TAYLOR " guys told us that communism is bad ( and I totally agree with that ! ) and we went fighting communism all over the globe !  meanwhile,  these " TAYLOR " guys are making business with communist CHINA, using their modern slavery system, killing thousands of jobs in America and Europe ! my question is : HOW STUPID DO YOU THINK WE ARE ? "

BillPenson
BillPenson

@TIME @timeworld go France! US work patterns & practices are appalling

jerry48
jerry48

" “Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour and ship all the tires France needs.”

and he will ship also to the US ! it shows how much this guy cares for american workers and for his own country !!! LOL

RonaldPinter
RonaldPinter

This is what I call a stuck up ars..le.

How I wish I was his boss , I'll put him to clean all the latrines

rorywong654
rorywong654

Last chance to save the world,don't buy or have anything to do with US.

trevorlarge
trevorlarge

@infonewsrugbyie can you please stop posting non-rugby news to the hashtag rugbyunited?

NamecNassianer
NamecNassianer

“Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one"

Note to self: never buy a tire made by Titan Tire.

jerry48
jerry48

@Greg_LW and the US government never subsidised GM for instance !  for sure in Europe the  definition of democracy is not quite the same as TAYLOR's ! with all the uncontroled free trade and fierce competition in the States you should be doing so much better than Europe ! (is it the case ? )  Why didn't TAYLOR just say NO ! not interested ? because he is one right wing conservative hater and didn't want to miss the oppotunity to bash the French ! if YOU are ready to take his $1.50 per hour jobs well GOOD FOR YOU AND GOOD LUCK ! but the thing is he is not even offering them to americans because he knows what the answer would be ! instead he deals with communist CHINA ! what a great guy ! keep up the good work dude !

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@felsull Why are the French (mostly young) so unsupportingly stuck up? It's like the current generation somehow thinks that they're the epitome of the French culture (God forbid) responsible for all French contribution to the world, when they are really just  predatores, scavengers and arsonists.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@jerry48 I guess you yourself would be the best informed and most inclined to answer that question. Why did it take so long? The world does have to change, yes indeed. More people must voice their opinions from all levels of society, not just 'the media moment' victims.

jerry48
jerry48

@WilliamBarnes well I guess I am a little devil since I much prefer hell here in France to your paradise run by angels like TAYLOR ! end of story !

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@Jodun @rorywong654 How about saying it about the whole damn human race. It's the same all over the globe. Egoistic rulers and poor populations. The saying is this: "All over the world, the sh!t is the same. The only thing that changes are the flies." The human race MUST EVOLVE OR DIE OFF!

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@jerry48 @WilliamBarnes What paradise? What hell? are you putting 'words' in my mouth? I don't know if it's hell in France or paradise in the States though from the news I read (all of it) they really don't look like good places to raise a kid, nowadays.