Background to Business in France

France finds itself at a difficult crossroads as the cold economic climate post-2008 challenges the viability of the country’s traditional social models.

With unemployment running around the 10% mark and many people calling for even further pro-market reforms, the modernisers find themselves at odds with traditional vested interests – and these vested interests have been historically highly influencial in shaping both internal policy and approach to business.

It could be said that two particular elements play a greater role in approach to business in France than in any other industrialised economy (other than possibly Japan). These two essential ingredients are the role of the government and the importance of a certain type of education.

The French government has played a central and vital role in the shaping and direction of French companies ever since the end of the Second World War. Indeed the government, even in the late eighties, was actively fostering the development of a number of national champion companies which would be large enough to face up to global competition. One of the interesting aspects of these interventionist policies is that they have been largely accepted by mainstream business, which has worked hand in hand with senior civil servants in the ministries.

This level of co-operation between the government and industry has been aided by the influence of the French education system, which pushes the brightest pupils through a system of elite schools known as the Grandes Ecoles. Graduates of the Grandes Ecoles tend to enter either large commercial organisations or the civil service and this educational brotherhood has created an affinity of thinking across the senior echelons of French business society. It has even been said that the best way to become a PDG (CEO) of a major French company is through a senior position in an important ministry.

France remains the 5th largest economy in the world and boasts world leading organisations in banking and finance, aeronautics and many hi-tech fields.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in France

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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France represents both a challenge and an opportunity from a business perspective. It is a large modern economy with a highly educated workforce, a sophisticated consumer base and a solid industrial base of successful companies spread across a range of industries. France is also a country where protectionist policies have proven very hard to remove and where change comes slowly at the macro level.

Recent political changes might indicate that France has recognised the need for a new vision for the country to help propel it into the future. Indeed, we have recently seen the strange sight of France standing up as a guardian of free trade and globalisation whilst the USA looks to retreat into a more isolationist and protectionist approach – a strange situation from a historical perspective.

It certainly seems that France is at a crossroads and only time will tell which route the country choses to take. In the interim, France remains too big an economy to ignore. If you are not doing business in France at the moment you should probably be looking at entering the market in the near future and this country profile is designed to help you understand the cultural landscape you will find when working with French colleagues or customers.

The French have a distinct and unique approach to many aspects of working life and anybody considering doing business in France would be well advised to research some of the specifics of French business culture before embarking on any commercial activities.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of French business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips