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.