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Less French bashing, more backslapping

(Published in The Malay Mail 10 November 2014)

Enough of “le french bashing et le pessimisme” France’s Prime Minister declared last Monday during a business award ceremony in central Paris.

Not one to mince his words, Manual Valls went on to remind his audience of 1500 entrepreneurs that French heavyweights L’Oréal, Clarins, Total, Danone and Free have all done their bit to “Conquer the United States”.

Channel-surfing, looking for something vaguely of interest to improve my French, I stumbled across the “BFM Awards 2014”. Manual Valls was the guest speaker at the opening ceremony, supported by his dishy right-hand man Emmanuel Macron France’s Economy Minister, and I stopped to hear what they had to say.

Goodness knows someone at the top needs to wave the “tricolor”, backslap its entrepreneurs and inject a healthy dose of American “Have a great day!” optimism. I know I need it, going by the last few downbeat columns I’ve posted. And let’s be honest, that person is not po-faced President François Holland; fortunately, safely ensconced in Canada at the time.

“France is sick,” as Macron himself diagnosed last month, but young and inspiring reformers like him and Valls, recent recruits and desperate to put France back on track, are themselves at risk of becoming sick and tired of the constant French bashing coming from every quarter — the U.S., Germany, and from within, particularly the likes of Marine Le Pen’s National Front team of far-righters.

France’s leading pro-business news channel BFMTV rolled out the red carpet to celebrate its tenth annual business awards cutely billed “Les Oscars de l’économie”. The top French movers and shakers nominated by BFM were presented with their awards in Salle Pleyel’s plush concert hall — minus the Hollywood pomp and ceremony — hitting a demure note as befitting les Français.

Rossignol Group won the best export performance award based on its technological know-how and refocused business strategy. CEO Bruno Cercley saved the ski and winter sports company from near bankruptcy in 2008 and put “made in France” back on the map. Holding a new ski, Cercley spent 5 minutes explaining the science behind it rather than its style and what it feels like to wear. I thought it was interesting that a CEO, usually equipped with more of a bird’s eye perspective on what happens than on the assembly line, should be so intimately acquainted with the cutting edge (excuse the pun) technology used in his company’s product.

BlaBlaCar and its founding president Frédéric Mazzella won the “revelation of the year” award for finding an economic model for carpooling. It boasts 10 million members in 12 countries, with 2 million passengers travelling per month under the BlaBlacar initiative that connects people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats. Simple, non?

Plastic Omnium and its CEO Laurent Burelle won the best performance award for the third time in four years. The company manufactures plastic car parts and its CEO made it clear that it was all about striving for technological excellence; something that France excels at. The French packaging company Sphere won entrepreneur of the year award.

Clarins cosmetics won the best family business award. Pats-on-the-back were given to new start-up Tanya Heath, Paris for her adjustable-heel shoes, and Gemmyo, an online jewellery store that allows customers to bring their own designs to life.

Did you know that the film blockbuster “Despicable Me” and its sequel were animated here in Paris? Jacques Bled of Illumination Mac Guff was awarded a “Prix Spécial” for those adorable giggly creatures. Other special prizes were given to Judo star Teddy Riner (nicknamed Big Ted and for good reason) holder of 7 World Championships gold medals plus an Olympic gold, and to Jean-Tirol, recipient of the 2014 Nobel prize for economics.

The magic duo Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Marcon returned to the stage to personally congratulate the BFM “Grand Prix” winners: Carlos Ghosn and the tour de force Xavier Niel.

Ghosn, 60, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance was praised for his managing style that has made the Paris-based Renault and Japan-based Nissan car companies more competitive and profitable. While Xavier Niel, 47, founder of Free, France’s second largest internet service provider and third mobile phone operator, with a net worth of $10 billion, was awarded for his creative spirit.

I enjoyed watching these awards. French modesty rarely allows for many “Great job Jacques!” or “High five Philippe!” opportunities. Backslapping to stop the back-bashing that will have certainly left BFMTV’s 10 million viewers with a feel-good factor, if only for an evening.

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