In international circles, the word that is the most often used is that France is unpredictable or worse, unreliable.
The recent changes of alliances, attitudes, partnerships and even friendships between France and the world, have raised a fundamental question: is France a principled or an opportunistic nation. Its role in Libya, Syria and Iran negotiation was the source of concern. Can France be bought?
In business, my French activities have been plentiful and diverse, from Euro-Franc bond issues to acquisitions and privatizations. Here are some of the examples of that activity.
Alcatel has been an important experience when I was called from New York by Morgan Stanley’s head of investment banking, Bob Greenhill, one of the best M&A professionals of his generation, and my boss and mentor in that field, asking me to join him the next day in Paris. I would “live” there for almost a year advising what was at the time named the Compagnie Generale d’Electricite. With Georges Pebereau and subsequently Philippe Suard as PDGs assets from 51 countries amounting to $ 3.5 billion changed hands on New Year’s Eve at the ITT tower in Brussels. ITT had left telecoms. A few years later, the French Government would mandate Morgan Stanley as its co-advisors (with Credit Lyonnais) for the privatization of the newly renamed Alcatel. I would continue to work for the company as an advisor when Serge Tchuruk took over from Suard.
Engie: I have been privileged to work for what was known as Compagnie de Suez and continued to work with its management until now. It is a superb company that is now confronted with the errance or absence of European energy policy at a time when it becomes the most important single challenge to the European Union. Gerard Worms and Gerard Mestrallet, soon to be succeeded by Isabelle Kocher, transformed an unfocused holding company into the largest European utility.
Euronext: the recent evolution has come full circles with the French dominated European Stock Exchange having foolishly to sell its soul and its shareholders value to the NYSE rather than be a catalyst of the non-defunct pan-European stock market.
I had the privilege to meet many French politicians in the last few decades, but I would be at pain to name one who gave me the impression that he had the right combination of integrity, vision and courage. I still believe that Charles de Gaulle, despite his weaknesses, is the last statesman of the French Republic. The most important part of my interaction with France remains its people: friends and family cross to form a unique network that we treasure.