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Interviews with American expats in France: cultural perspective

December 6th, 2011 2 comments

Bonjour!

I was recently interviewed by Margarita Gokun Silver, MPH, CPCC, PNLP at her site here (article below). I sought to explain my story and provide a little does of cultural insight into living in France based on my experiences.

My fellow expat in France, Lindsey, was also interviewed about doing business in France as she started her own company, Lola’s Cookies, selling cookies. You can find that article here.

I invite you to leave your own cultural perspectives in the comments section below.

An American in France
Posted on December 5, 2011

There have been quite a few famous Americans (and other expats) in history that decided to either settle or live in France for long periods of time. Today many follow their example and in this blog post we interview Michael Barrett, an American who is now living in France.

Global Coach Center (GCC): How long have you lived in France and how did you come to live there?

Michael: I’ve lived in France now over four years in a row but longer than that over my lifetime. I lived in Paris as a baby and toddler for three years as my father worked here on assignment. My family always had an interest in France so it influenced my decision to study the language and culture in middle school, high school and then in college. My first trip back to France was with the French club of my high school in 2003. During my sophomore year (2nd year) at the University of Notre Dame, I studied abroad in Angers, France 2004-2005, where I lived with a French family, studied in French, traveled and made friends from all over the world. It motivated me to come back.

I followed that with an internship at Sciences Po Paris in 2006, and then after graduating in 2007, I moved to Lyon to be an English assistant. I met my French girlfriend there, pursued graduate studies in communications in Grenoble for two years, during which I worked at AmCham France. In July 2010 I was hired as a Digital Project Manager at New BBDO Paris, and advertising agency. I’ve been here ever since, and I also manage the site Americanexpatinfrance, write for several websites and am involved with the expatriate community while keeping a close group of French friends. I plan on applying for dual citizenship soon.

GCC: What do you love most about living in France?

Michael: My girlfriend, my French friends, the rich culture and gastronomy and history, the diversity of the regions and their characteristics… close proximity to other European countries. A generally balanced approach to life and work…their healthcare system –although it’s not perfect.

GCC: What frustrates you?

Michael: Generalizations about America and its culture, strikes, lack of convenience here (the US is a culture of convenience)…although I’ve gradually come to accept these cultural differences with the traditional French shrug of the shoulders. Every country has its own pros and cons.

GCC: What would you have liked to know that you didn’t before coming to live in France?

Michael: To know how to (try to) master the inner workings of the French civil service bureaucracy and its paperwork, implicit messages (not explicit) and assumptions that you know everything if you don’t ask a question. But I’ve learned how to manage that, too.

GCC: What are three tips you can give people planning to move to France?

Michael:

Learn the language and about the culture as well, as this will not only enrich you but also show a genuine willingness on your part to the French that you’re making an effort and reaching out.

On a related note, be open-minded. This is not America, and there will be some culture shock and things and approaches that are done differently. They have a different perspective here on many things, so approach it with curiosity and don’t be afraid to have friendly debate with French coworkers and friends (make French friends), as long as it’s not on taboo subjects (money, religion) – those are for closer friends usually.

Take a look at practical matters in detail – education, healthcare, taxes, driving regulations, housing – hopefully your employer or organization can help you with these matters. Better to be well prepared than land here and figure out as you go along. That can add to frustration. I’d be happy to advise on questions or refer you to an expert in a field that I don’t master as well.

Again in innovation, French companies score high marks

November 16th, 2011 No comments

It must be innovation week…

In another poll on innovation (Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators), France has 11 companies on the list (the 3rd most behind Japan with 27 and America with 40). The brilliant chaps over at The Economist have a nice article on this, below here for easy reading (France boldfaced for emphasis on my part).

Where innovation lies
Nov 16th 2011, 16:54 by The Economist online

Where are the world’s most innovative companies and what do they do?

Companies that make semiconductors and other electronic components are collectively the most innovative industry, according to an analysis of patents carried out by Thomson Reuters, an information-services provider. Its “Top 100 Global Innovators” report rates companies by the proportion of their patent applications that are granted; the number of “quadrilateral” patents (those granted in China, Europe, Japan and America); how often patents are cited by other companies; and whether patents relate to new techniques or inventions or are refinements of existing ones. This approach is intended to overcome the limitations of using the number of patents filed or granted as a measure of innovation. Of the 100 companies in the list, which is not ranked and relates to patent activity from 2005-2010, 40 are from America, 27 from Japan and 11 from France. No Chinese companies qualified. The report says this “underscores the fact that although China is leading the world in patent volume, quantity does not equate to influence and quality.”

Will France be the next market downgrade?

As most of you have seen in recent days, world stock markets have been manic depressive, going through ups and mostly downs due in large part to widespread worries that the US debt downgrade from S&P and the fiscal debt in countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain will result in worse market conditions for investors.

My other sovereign’s an AAA (The Economist)

There was a market backlash against French debt and enormous market losses for French banks like Société Générale, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole (exposed to Greek debt and other European sovereign debt) that is making investors increasingly anxious about France’s debt. Indeed as The Economist writes:

“France’s debt stood at 82% of GDP last year, from 64% in 2007. This is one of the highest of any AAA-rated country. That, investors fear, means it could be the next target for a downgrade, especially if already anaemic economic growth falters further. The extra yield required by investors to hold French debt instead of German Bunds jumped to almost triple the average level of 2010 while the cost of insuring against a default by France reached new highs during the week.”

Moreover, as The Telegraph writes, “French banks have €410bn (£360bn) of exposure to Italy alone according to the Bank for International Settlements. The twin crises in France and Italy are now intimately linked and appear to be feeding on each other.”

How will France proceed? According to a great, in-depth Bloomberg interview (embedding not allowed) with Philippe D’Arvisenet, global chief economist at BNP Paribas SA, France initiating austerity measures is “inescapable”. They go on to discuss France’s exposure to European sovereign debt, reform plans to cut spending but keep tax rates at current levels (though with elimination of some 500 tax loopholes).

The same Telegraph article states, “French president Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered a “general mobilization” to slash France’s budget deficit in a frantic effort to safeguard the country’s AAA rating and head off a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.”

We will see how this plays out…for now, the markets will likely continue to be manic depressive. Hang on tight!

I leave you with this passage from the Telegraph article:

“…Marchel Alexandrivich from Jefferies Fixed Income said investors are worried that the latest contagion to France could bring the eurozone’s bubbling problems to a head in a dramatic fashion.

“If France is dragged into the problem, then we will hit crisis point. They will either have to move to a full-blown eurobond — and German politicians are set against that — or face a break-up. There is a significant chance that the euro will no longer exist in its current form within twelve months,” he said.
President Sarkozy said France would include a “golden rule” in its constitution to restore fiscal probity, adding that the fiscal targets for 2011 and 2012 were “untouchable”.

The new budget measures will be introduced on August 24 and are expected to include the closure of 500 tax loopholes.

The IMF said France has the highest debt ratio of any AAA state this year at 85pc of GDP and may have to tighten further next year. Like the US, France has also built up huge pension debt and contingent liabilities.”

Christine Lagarde elected head of IMF: American reaction

BBC/AFP: Christine Lagarde will start her five-year term at the IMF on 5 July

As former French Finance Minister has been named IMF head, effective July 5th, and François Baroin has been named her replacement, Le Figaro has an interesting article on Christine Lagarde from an American perspective, as well as a longer article into her path that lead her to Washington.

Meanwhile, she appeared in 2009 on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Check it out here.

Defining Franco-American commercial relations

The new President of the French-American Chamber of Commerce (FACC), Elsa Berry, was recently interviewed by French business daily Les Echos on Franco-American business relations.

You can read the article and more on the FACC Chicago website (excerpt below describing the article, with link to article at bottom, in French):

Les Echos Speaks to Ms. Elsa Berry Concerning French-American Relations

Elsa Berry, nouvelle présidente de la Chambre de commerce franco-américaine, souhaite favoriser un accroissement des relations entre les Etats-Unis et la France. Ces relations sont déjà basées sur la coopération, y compris politique et militaire. Pourtant, selon Elsa Berry, “Il existe de multiples opportunités de communication et d’échanges.” Vous pouvez dècouvrir les objectifs annoncés de la présidente de la Chambre de commerce franco-américaine dans cet entretien publié le 6 juin dans Les Echos.

Read the full article in Les Echos here.

Salaries of French university graduates on the rise

According to this article, citing a study carried out by Aon Hewitt, salaries are increasing for French university graduates, especially those from elite engineering and business schools. This comes after economic stagnation during the crisis. In 2011, the overall increase in salaries in France was 2.6%, whereas for young graduates the increase was 3.4%. Some salaries include stock options, company savings plans, retirement accounts and other features, according to the company.

But there is still a sense of insecurity, because out 75% of companies offer young graduates fixed-term contracts (CDD) as opposed to long-term contracts (CDI).

The study surveyed more than 70 companies of all sizes and in multiple sectors, as well as more than 17,000 young graduates who are now employed.

L’Express also speaks about the study.

You can see links for French business, networking and jobs on my site here.

Semaine spéciale
publié le 25/04/2011
Rémunération des jeunes diplômés : la fin de l’austérité

Une étude menée par le cabinet Aon Hewitt montre des perspectives intéressantes pour les jeunes diplômés en matière de salaire. Une embellie qui profite surtout aux diplômés d’écoles d’ingénieur et d’écoles de commerce.

La stagnation des salaires des jeunes diplômés devrait toucher à sa fin, d’après une enquête d’Aon Hewitt. En 2011, le pourcentage d’augmentation de leurs salaires montre en effet une progression de 3,4% soit plus que les 2,6% du marché général. Près d’une entreprise sur deux a même mis en place des mesures d’augmentation salariales pour les jeunes diplômés, basées principalement sur des critères de performances individuelles.

Des rémunérations complémentaires
Pour compléter ces hausses, de nombreux salaires sont dopés par un intéressement et surtout une rémunération variable (dans plus de 8 entreprises sur 10). Certains jeunes diplômés ont même accès à des actions gratuites (10% des entreprises), voire des stock-options (4%). Une minorité de sociétés (14%) proposent des Plans épargne entreprise (PEE) ou des Plans épargne retraite.

Les plus diplômés très demandés
Dans ce contexte, ce sont les plus qualifiés qui tirent le mieux leur épingle du jeu. Les écoles d’ingénieurs seront ainsi les plus sollicitées, avec une hausse d’un tiers des recrutements de leurs diplômés. De la même manière pour les salaires d’embauche, les entreprises sont plus nombreuses à prévoir des augmentations pour les élèves issus d’écoles d’ingénieur ou d’écoles de commerce.

Une baisse des recrutements
Les recrutements seront eux moins importants, 9 entreprises sur 10 prévoyant un nombre d’embauches de jeunes diplômés égale ou inférieur à 2010. Les prévisions restent tout de même élevées, en particulier dans des secteurs comme la finance, la vente, le marketing et l’engineering. Autre point négatif : les contrats, les embauches se faisant le plus souvent sous forme de CDD, même si la politique de rémunération est la même que pour ceux en CDI.

Abercrombie & Fitch on Champs-Elysées May 19, France & globalization

April 29th, 2011 1 comment

This article by The Economist (which you all know by now is a preferred publication), talks about what Abercrombie’s arrival in France means for the country being even more globalized and the controversy that globalization often sparks in France.

I completely agree with the last paragraph, cited below (and in bold), based on my experience in France. Many French love criticizing globalization but they also regularly consume global brands. Why is that? Is France anti-globalization or a fully globalized economy? In my opinion, it’s between both. You have world-renown French brands and increasingly global minded young graduates as well as wide adoption of Twitter, Facebook and other digital media, as described in detail by another Economist article.

But you also sometimes have protest and resistance against the arrivals of foreign chains. I certainly respect the right of small shop owners to operate and enjoy French culture, but the country will have to be even more open to the forces of globalization in order to be even more successful in the world economy.

France is indeed “a riddle in a mystery inside an enigma”. But I’m enjoying the ride.

Your thoughts?

France and globalisation
We’ll always have Paris
What the new Champs-Elysées says about France
Apr 28th 2011 | PARIS | from the print edition

A GIANT naked male torso towers over the lower end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Or, rather, a black-and-white photograph of a male model’s glistening muscles is draped across the four-storey façade of a soon-to-open Abercrombie & Fitch store. The unveiling next month of the first French outlet for the American retailer, renowned for improbably toned, half-dressed sales assistants and hooded sweatshirts, will delight teenagers, bemuse parents—and confirm that France’s best-known avenue has gone global.

When the first majestic lines of trees were planted in the 17th century by André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s landscape architect, the Champs-Elysées was a shady walk. It has long since been built up and turned over to shops, cafés and offices. But the avenue still has special meaning, both as an embodiment of French elegance and as a stage for displays of national pride and military might. Unlike London’s Bond Street or New York’s Fifth Avenue, the Champs-Elysées is where soldiers march, tanks roll and planes fly past in the annual Bastille Day parade every July 14th.

These days, though, it is getting hard to find much that is French on the Champs-Elysées, besides a few cinemas, car showrooms and luxury brands. International chains such as H&M (Swedish) and Tommy Hilfiger (American) have opened big stores, joining other foreign implants like Zara (Spanish), Virgin Megastore (British), Disney, McDonald’s and Gap (all American). Even Britain’s Marks & Spencer, which quit Paris a decade ago, is coming back soon, bravely hoping to sell women’s clothes and English sandwiches on the Champs-Elysées.

Plenty of Parisians are dismayed. Earlier this year, owing to soaring rents that make the Champs-Elysées the world’s fourth most expensive shopping street, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a property firm, the post office closed its doors. “It will no longer be anything but a clothing street,” sniffed Lyne Cohen-Solal, a Paris councillor. A few years ago the town hall unsuccessfully appealed to the courts to block H&M’s arrival. “The Champs-Elysées is mythical,” declared François Lebel, mayor of the local borough. “The image of France is at stake.”

Like their politicians, the French always sound defiantly anti-globalisation. In polls they are far more hostile to free markets than Germans, Chinese or Russians. Yet when it comes to buying or eating foreign stuff, they are as enthusiastic. France is one of the most profitable markets for McDonald’s. Judging by the dress code of French teenagers, there will be long queues outside Abercrombie & Fitch—though whether to buy the hooded tops or to eye up the sales staff may be another question.

Why France is depressed and how it can reform

This fantastic, rather long article by The Economist (April 20, 2011 print edition),“Reforming Gloomy France”, profiles the country’s current pessimistic mood, economy, prospects for growth and entrepreneurial start-up spirit that is motiving many today. It speaks about how the French state of mind is hard to pinpoint and also hope for the future. Excellent read. These are only excerpts below. You can read the full article at the link above, and I’ve made it available for download.

France
Reforming gloomy France
The French are feeling morose about their future. The thrusting energy of their digital entrepreneurs suggests they should not
Apr 20th 2011 | PARIS | from the print edition

BEHIND the bustling terrace cafés and bright municipal blooms of springtime, France today is not a happy place. Tense, fearful and beset by self-doubt, the French seem in a state of defiant hostility: towards their president, political parties, Islam, immigrants, the euro, globalisation, business bosses and more. Such is France’s despondency that its people face “burnout”, said the national ombudsman recently; previously, he had described the nation as “psychologically exhausted”.

It is a sign of French disgruntlement that the publishing sensation of the past six months has been “Indignez-vous!” (“Time for Outrage!”), a pamphlet by a 93-year-old urging his fellow countrymen to revolt. Indeed, the French currently rank among the world’s most pessimistic. Only 15% told a global poll that they expect things to get better in 2011, a far smaller percentage than of Germans or even Afghans and Iraqis (see chart 1)…

…The French seem simply to doubt their politicians’ ability to do much to improve anything. The economy is emerging only slowly from the recession, with GDP growth this year forecast to reach 1.7%, compared with 2.5% in Germany. Joblessness, at 9.6%, is high, and even more so for the under-25s. Although the government has embarked on fiscal consolidation, public finances remain under strain, with a deficit of 7.7% last year. Ordinary working people keep hearing that their high-tax, high-spending model provides them with one of the world’s most generous social systems; yet even the middle class feels a squeeze at the end of each month.

The upshot is a fatalistic France that seems to have set its sights on little better than controlled decline: a middling economic power, whose people cling to their social model and curse globalisation, while failing to get to grips with either. Considering what they hear from politicians, this attitude is perhaps not surprising. The Socialist Party promises, with a straight face, to restore retirement at 60 (the age was recently raised to 62) and urges greater European protectionism as a response to globalisation. Ms Le Pen vows to withdraw France from the euro and put back border controls. Mr Sarkozy’s political day-trip of choice is to a metal-bashing factory—although only 13% of jobs are in industry—where he surrounds himself with workers in overalls and hard hats, telling them they need to be protected from globalisation and other ills.

One conclusion from all this is that France and its politicians are irredeemably conservative. Indeed, France often seems to be in semi-permanent revolt, arms crossed and heels dug in against change. Only last autumn, unions and oil workers led weeks of strikes and blockades in protest at Mr Sarkozy’s modest raising of the minimum retirement age. On a single day, up to 3.5m protesters took to the streets; petrol pumps ran dry across the country. “Why France is impossible to reform”, lamented L’Express, a news-magazine….

…But if the French really are so allergic to change, how come the pension reform not only went through but has now been accepted, even forgotten? Only weeks after the new law reached the statute books in November, the matter did not rank among the nation’s top ten subjects of conversation, according to a poll for Paris-Match. France seemed to go through a painful spasm of rebellion, then to shrug it all off and resume business as usual. “We were able to demonstrate to the French people that there are things that a government just has to do,” argues Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister. “For once, the government did not give in to the street.”…

…By holding firm, and ignoring charges of political deafness, Mr Sarkozy appealed over the heads of those on the streets to the silent majority. He took a bet that this invisible France would quietly back change, and prevail over the rest. For, in reality, two halves of the country co-exist. One half, mostly, but not only, in the public-sector, is led by hard-talking trade unionists promising to prolong benefits for privileged “insiders” and entrench rigid labour laws. The other half, mostly found in the more dynamic, private sector, is plugged into global markets and just as despairing of its strike-happy fellow countrymen as anybody else.

This is the France that does not go on strike, that defies disruptions to struggle into work, and whose voice is seldom heard. It is found among the 92% of workers who do not belong to a union. It is the small traders and artisans who are up before dawn scrubbing their shop-front windows. It is the workforce whose productivity per hour worked is higher than that in Germany and Britain, and which helped to make France the world’s third highest destination for foreign direct investment in 2010. It is the third of private-sector employees who work for a foreign firm. It is France’s leading global companies—Vivendi, L’Oréal, Michelin, LVMH—which busily reap the benefits of globalisation, a force that the French say they deplore.

This voiceless France, more adaptable and forward-looking, seldom permeates the national conversation. Yet a glance at the France behind the headlines hints at a picture that is a lot less glum. Shops are full, markets busy and consumer spending is buoyant. Property prices are up. The French have snapped up the iPad and 20m, or nearly a third of the population, are on Facebook. The French may moan about their country, their bureaucrats and their politicians, but they seem happy with their individual situation. Though only 17% of young people told one recent poll that their country’s future was promising, a massive 83% said that they were satisfied with their own lives.

Financial Times “Business in France” special features Lyon, others

January 27th, 2011 1 comment

Perusing the Financial Times, I came across a business special on France that features articles on Lyon as a growing business center, Lille and other subjects of interest (project for Paris Silicon Valley, technology sector, etc).

You can download the PDF here. I’ve also made it available here, in case FT takes it down or there is a technical website problem.

Some excerpts below are taken from the article about the city I hold dear, Lyon.

Thriving business region that is answer to Rhineland: Good transport and skills are a draw, says Ross Tieman

A great location in the Rhône valley, where it acts as a gateway between France and central and southern Europe, has underpinned Lyon’s prosperity ever since the Romans marched in 2,000 years ago.

But in recent centuries, technology took over the relay, with hydroelectric power contributing to a regional heritage of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. The city preserved its charms, however. Now classified as a Unesco world heritage site, it sustains a vibrant culture that extends from a renowned opera company to contemporary music and the kitchen of chef Paul Bocuse.

Lyon’s high-speed train connections to Paris and Marseille, and location on France’s main north-south motorway make it an attractive location for both business and pleasureseekers.

Back-office operations for financial services and logistics are important contributors to France’s second-largest regional economy. Yet to think of Lyon as a city is to miss the point. With a population of 1.7m it is the heart of a business region that is France’s answer to the Rhineland, and which, with 10,000 researchers, spends as much on innovation as Finland or Denmark….

Taking Up Residence article: “Doing business in France”

October 27th, 2010 2 comments

In this month’s edition of Taking Up Residence, I write an article about the basics of French business, legal entities and the main features of the principal models available. You can download the latest newsletter from this site as well as the LinkedIn group Expat Web among the discussions.

My article is pp. 5-7 and includes a link to my page on business in France, but I highly encourage you to read the whole newsletter, as you will it is full of pertinent advice from a wide variety of experts. Taking Up Residence consistently puts out quality information, and I’m happy to collaborate with them on this France project. Thanks to Michiel Schokking for putting this great issue together, and thank you to the other writers. See the message below.

Greetings and welcome to the October edition of our (PDF) newsletter which can be downloaded here: http://www.takingupresidence.com/download/EXPATWEB-OKT2010.pdf

This month, we profile France. A combination of old world charm, unique cultural heritage, and modern sophistication lures millions of tourists from all over the world to its borders each year. For professional expats, steady economic progress and a strong social support system feeds the attraction. To read more about life in France, go to the TakingUpResidence website: http://www.takingupresidence.com/france.html.

In this issue…

–Senior Editor, Diana Heeb Bivona offers a few French business culture tidbits in ‘Formality and Respect are Valued’;

–Elsa Guillais and Rachel Ryder of Emigra Ogletree Worldwide provide an overview of French immigration law in ‘Recent Changes in French Immigration Policies’;

Michael Barrett an American expat living in France and creator of the blog, American Expat in France offers insights for entrepreneurs regarding ‘Doing Business in France‘; and

–Attorney Haywood Wise takes a closer look at commercial immigration in ‘Professional – Commercial Immigration to France Favors Admission of Skilled Entrepreneurs – Recent Reforms’

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