French politicians 'understand neither the economy nor business' - ex French CBI head Laurence Parisot

You live & you learn: Laurence Parisot, CEO of IFOP poll institute and recent head of Medef, the French CBI.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 02 May 2014

When I was a girl, I wanted to be number one at everything. I'm not good at taking orders, although I love being in a team. It's deeply related to a passion for freedom and liberty. It's not about a love of power. The current situation in France makes me miserable. I want to do something to get us out of this mess.

I admire Frau Merkel but she has done very little for other women. Madeleine Albright said there is a special place in hell for women who don't help women. And I regret Merkel's lack of vision for Europe. She's its de facto leader but doesn't act as such. She's not creative.

Hollande's personal life and his scooter antics with an actress are not the problem. What is far more serious is that both he and his ministers appear incompetent and ignorant of their briefs.

The UK is the island but the French behave as if they live on one. The struggle our companies have with exporting is largely down to not speaking English. Politicians of both left and right understand neither the economy nor business.

My family had a furniture business that became one of the largest in Europe up to the 1980s. My grandfather wanted me to join. My mother's response was to beware. I said no and she was proved right. Fifteen years later, there was a huge fight and a split between my father, who was fired, and his brothers. Now my uncles and I do not talk. The mix of close personal relationships and business in family capitalism is tough.

I once said to Le Figaro that 'Life, health and even love are precarious. So, why shouldn't work abide by this (natural) law?' The recent retirement age reforms will not be enough. The unions have an important role and the more reformist ones are ready to do deals.

While you can be a capitalist and believe in free-market economics in France, it's very hard to say so explicitly. This problem goes back to the Revolution. Successful entrepreneurs are still the cause of jealousy.

As head of Medef, I wanted to introduce women's quotas for company boards. One top CEO said it would be impossible to find sufficiently talented women to fill the roles. It took me until my 40s to realise the role misogyny plays in business. Before, when we failed to win contracts, despite offering the best, I put it down to not working hard enough.

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