François Michelin (1926-2015), former leader of the the world’s second-largest tire maker, died early today at the age of 88. Michelin was actively involved in the French tire company, Group Michelin, until 2002, driving unprecedented growth for the company. His “passion for innovation” and “his uncompromising attention to quality” no doubt caused the tire company to thrive. Automotive News reported a statement from current Group Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard: “On behalf of the Group’s employees, I would like to pay special tribute to this exceptional man who was universally respected for his values, his convictions, and his vision.”
“He was one of the greatest French industrialists in the postwar years,” said French President François Hollande in a statement. “He understood the importance of innovation and of long-term industrial development. By developing the radial tire, he transformed a family and regional company into one of the biggest French groups and one of its best-known.”
Author of And Why Not? Morality and Business, Michelin was a devout Catholic whose faith played a huge role in his management and leadership. In 2002, he sat down with R&L and discussed many things, including his understanding of “work:”:
This question was once put to a little girl. She answered, “To work is to build.” What does it mean to build? To give yourself a target that you want to reach. It is ﬁnding materials to build a house—or producing tires. You think that you are building a family or a company. But, in the ﬁnal analysis, it is yourself that you are building. In my own personal case, I believe I am working all the time. To work for a business is to always keep its objectives in mind, to assimilate anything that can help you clarify them, and to ﬁnd the means to achieve them. It is also to ask yourself why things are the way they are. When you have properly understood the reason that things are what they are, you know how to make use of them. Reasoning by analogy is a marvelous tool. Quite often, different phenomena have something in common that connects them—an underlying, primary cause that allows you to understand a lot of things. You may merely be watching someone sweep the street, and you can be struck suddenly by an idea that will allow you to improve the machines that you use to make tires.