Alejandro Chafuen, Acton’s Managing Director, International, describes in Forbes how a good businessman ought to be first a good man. The principles that guided François Michelin apply not only in business but also in personal life.
Michelin is a French surname, but it is also a synonym for quality tires and restaurant recommendations. This article, however, is not about the current state of this $18 billion company but about some of its most important roots: the principles that guided François Michelin (1926-2015). Major corporations from around the world have seen their brands tarnished but not so Michelin. It consistently ranks among the companies with the best reputations.
I only spent a few days with Mr. Michelin, though I recently re-read a book titled And Why Not?, which carries a lengthy interview describing his views. The processes and compounds used in manufacturing the tires are carefully guarded, but the reasons that Michelin believed led to their success are free for all to follow.
The work of major corporations is greatly influenced by government intervention, be it barriers or support. Michelin was a private-sector man who did not look to government for solutions or directions, and his company was built that way. He knew that the private sector is not perfect, but he saw “the vast number of small errors made by all the actors in the economy as a whole is infinitely less dangerous than the major mistakes committed by a dozen technocrats working in their own little areas of responsibility.”
Government bureaucrats can use the power of government to make people buy things, but not so private companies. Michelin explained: “If somebody does not want to buy our tires, I cannot do anything to make them buy our tires…. It can never be stressed enough that the customer is the real owner of the business. He is the one who decides to buy your products…or those of your competitors because yours are too expensive or not as good.”
Photo credit: François Michelin (right) with Jacques Garello (center) and Fr. Robert Sirico (left). Acton Institute.