Bombardier coup shows French panache at the heart of Airbus Airbus saves Bombardier Skapinker attributes it to pantouflage.
An award-winning contributing editor and columnist for the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker, provides insight into the reason why Airbus’ acquisition (50.01%) of the Bombardier C series was such a coup
· Technical expertise? No.
· Financial brilliance? No.
· Marketing research? No.
Skapinker, Business Commentator of the Year (2012) and Business Ethics Commentator of the Year (2015), points to pantouflage. What pray tell is pantouflage? First, some background and then help from the French to English dictionary!
John Newhouse, who wrote 55 exceptional books and two with regard to commercial airline manufacturing competition (The Sporty Game and Boeing versus Airbus), chronicles the battle between the US company and the European multinational corporation. Newhouse has revealing quotes from executives on both side of the Atlantic. The intensity of their competition exceeds that seen in other battles between Titans of industry; it is fair to say that animus can be felt between Chicago/Seattle and Paris/Toulouse. One aerospace business observer claims that the A-380 was built by Airbus out of a sort of plane envy of the B-747; the French double decker is bigger, faster and more efficient than the soon-to-be retired Boeing 4 engine jet.
With that historical prologue, the battle moves to Boeing v. Bombardier. The US company and the US government found that the Canadian government heavily subsidized the development of the C-Series jetliner. The Commerce Department issued a 300% tariff on the 100-150 seat plane.
The Canadian, UK and French governments objected (the imposition would kill jobs within their borders), and it appeared that Bombardier would not be able to sell its product, which was forecast to save the company, south of the border. Curiously, the C-series was designed to compete with the B-737-700 NG and the European A319.
To the rescue came Airbus. It bought a majority interest in the product line and the coup de grâce was that Airbus has a manufacturing plant in Alabama. By manufacturing there, the US tariff would not apply.
- Query: whether the workers in Canada and Ireland will be pleased with losing their jobs to Americans (the basis for the Canadian and UK governmental expressions of outrage)?
- Query: will the US Airbus employees be paid higher wages and thus reduce the profit margin of the cheaper workers of Canada and Ireland?
- Query: the governmental subsidies were likely justified over the downstream employment expectations; now what?
- Query: will Airbus reduce its A319 forecasts?
Now to Mr. Sapinker’s explanation He points out the raison d’être for the existence of the Pan European aerospace organization– “Airbus is one
of Europe’s proudest creations: a company that shows the continent can compete head-to-head with the US and the rest of the world. It is everything the EU wants to be: innovative, technologically savvy and a successful collaboration between national partners.”
Mr. Sapinker makes an insightful comment about Airbus’ culture “While Germany has been the dominant EU power, Airbus, with its most important centre in Toulouse, has always had an unmistakably French feel, even now when its chief executive, Tom Enders, is German. In their 2014 article “How has the French context shaped the organisation of the Airbus Group?”, Christoph Barmeyer of Passau and Strasbourg universities and Ulrike Mayrhofer of IAE Lyon School of Management noted how prominent the French approach to business had been in Airbus’s development.”
The next word in the Financial Times article is the KEY “‘Pantoufleur ’”as defined in a French to English dictionary it means:
revolving-door policy; taking advantage of a previous position to get an attractive job
Another source explains it as follows:
pantouflage refers to a practice by which high-level French civil servants, usually former students of the École Polytechnique or the École nationale d’administration, obtain work in private enterprise
The term “pantouflage” also applies to politicians who, following an electoral loss or a termination from a ministerial position, assume a private industry, high-paying position without significant responsibilities. This is often undertaken during an interim period when formerly elected politicians vet new opportunities to assume elected office.
It is a derivation of the word “pantoufle”, which means slipper.
The Financial Times article further elucidates on the pantouflage at the company “Airbus chief Tom Enders…once worked for the German defence ministry, helping him to better understand how French organisations work. Airbus executives, such as Louis Gallois, Mr. Enders’s predecessor, are typical of grande école graduates, who switch effortlessly between state institutions and the private sector. ’This French phenomenon is called pantouflage, which literally means that the actors can regain their ‘slippers’ that they left in the [state] administration,’ the academics wrote. ‘These actors are closely linked by an esprit de corps that leads to strong, stable and life-long interconnections.’”
That makes tremendous sense. The transaction between the Canadian company and the European organization will require all sorts of governmental approvals. Airbus’ pantouflage will assure that the reviews are completed quickly and positively. Isn’t that the point of this article? The C-series will be flying soon because of French slippers, non?
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