By successfully carrying through the industrial and digital transformation of the MICHELIN group, and more generally its reorganisation, Jean Dominique SENARD has emerged as one of the most brilliant French managers of his generation.
As the first head of the company not be drawn from the founding family, he has helped the group consolidate its position as a leader based on fully multicultural teams.
Jean-Dominique SENARD kindly answered our questions at a particularly busy time for him and the future of MICHELIN.
Ground level autonomy, empowerment and accountability at Michelin
How did you first discover the international dimension and what has it contributed to your professional practices?
My father, a diplomat, made me aware very early on of the importance of international affairs, and particularly those in the Middle East.
I started my career back in the 1980s at Total, at a time when France was still quite inward-looking. Next, I moved on to Saint-Gobain, holding posts in the financial field, where I really discovered more about it, particularly in Germany. There, I learned a great deal about social dialogue.
Later, as manager of the Pechiney Group, I was faced with global competition and the personal exposure to the international scene this entails.
This experience gave me the necessary perspective, enabling me to make a comparison between France and other countries. I found that human behaviour is often more conformist and coherent than people initially believe. There are universal values which people accept as such. At Michelin, these are perceptible in the working environment and this is one of the reasons for which we have been able to organise international teams without any major difficulties. Additionally, in an international environment it’s also necessary to understand the specific local characteristics of the person you’re dealing with.
What have been the consequences of the MICHELIN Group’s internationalisation?
Michelin was already an international business 120 years ago. I’ll take a few examples to illustrate this:
- In the 1970s, Francois Michelin expanded the group, giving it a genuine international standing thanks to a number of major acquisitions.
- After the crisis of 2008-2010, at a time of intense competition, the group set itself an exciting challenge: the simultaneous construction of major manufacturing plants around the world in order to avoid the risk of isolation faced with the growth of Asian competitors.
How do you apply the values developed in the group’s home region, Clermont-Ferrand, at an international level?
Michelin is an international business with French origins. Its values, which are strongly rooted locally and conveyed by the family, have generated an impressive spirit of togetherness. Today, not everyone who joins us is aware of Clermont-Ferrand and of Michelin’s long history. That said, after joining us they soon discover our unique character.
The affectio societatis is instantaneous because we apply a strict induction policy all around the world, in addition to respecting and caring for people and ensuring that our management pay careful attention to their future development.
I helped develop this unique aspect by adapting it to the modern ‘empowerment and accountability’ culture.
What do you mean by empowerment?
Empowerment means explaining how things are changing, providing the teams with the autonomy they need to take ownership of this change and ensuring that they themselves contribute solutions to the problems we encounter.
The group is currently undergoing cultural change. This change corresponds to the aspirations of much of the group’s social structure, aspirations which must be satisfied by a methodological approach, protecting the well-being of our staff. To achieve this, we need to change managerial practices. From being ‘order givers’ or ‘controllers’, our managers are now becoming ‘advisors’, ‘solution providers’, and ‘people developers’. This basic principle is a source of unity and togetherness on a worldwide basis.
What are the advantages enjoyed by MICHELIN and more generally by the French when it comes to succeeding in international competition?
The transformation of the role of manager at Michelin is something of a revolution when we consider French culture, which is based on control and centralisation. The good news is that after the initial resistance has been overcome, we are seeing that French managers are keen to be more open and to change, which is something of a surprise. If we continue along this road, France can achieve miracles.
In your view, what are the distinctive characteristics of French management?
The French tend to spend a lot of time reasoning before they take decisions, unlike the pragmatic approach of the North Americans for example. This tendency can sometimes be excessive and result in inefficiency. At Michelin, as part of our internationalisation process, we have paid a great deal of attention to limiting the influence of this distinctive French characteristic within multicultural teams. These teams contribute a considerable degree of mutual enrichment. It can take some time before this appears, but with time and experience, the interaction between different behavioural styles helps people develop their ability to listen and forges healthy temperaments. It also brings about openness. In the unstable and fast-moving context of international competition, Michelin needs to become more open while at the same time protecting its values.
Jean-Dominique Senard, CEO Of Michelin
interviewed by Charles Rostand and Mehdi Clément for Akteos