Good Year CEO’s letter about French work ethic sparks fury

Posted at 11:32 AM, Feb 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-28 11:42:45-05

FRANCE (CBS News) — The CEO of a U.S. tire company has delivered a crushing summary of how some outsiders view France’s work ethic in a letter saying he would have to be stupid to take over a factory whose staff only put in three hours work a day.

Titan International’s Maurice “Morry” Taylor, who goes by “The Grizz” for his bear-like no-nonsense style, told France’s left-wing industry minister in a letter published by Paris media that he had no interest in buying a doomed plant.

“The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three,” Taylor wrote on Feb. 8 in the letter in English addressed to the minister, Arnaud Montebourg.

“I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!” Taylor added in the letter, which was posted by business daily Les Echos on its website on Wednesday and which the ministry confirmed was genuine.

“How stupid do you think we are?” he asked at one point.

“Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one Euro per hour wage and ship all the tires France needs,” he said. “You can keep the so-called workers.”

Taylor’s letter was a response to Paris having approached Titan as a possible buyer of U.S. group Goodyear’s Amiens Nord factory in northern France.

As the leaked letter drew outrage in France, Montebourg penned a scathing response, spelling out the reasons why France routinely ranks as a leading destination for companies to invest, beating China and India in mid-2012.

“Can I remind you that Titan, the business you run, is 20 times smaller than Michelin, the French (tire) technology leader with international influence, and 35 times less profitable,” Montebourg wrote, in a two-page letter in French.

“This just shows the extent to which Titan could have learned and gained, enormously, from a presence in France.”

Montebourg’s letter, a copy of which was sent to Reuters, said Taylor’s comments, “as extremist as they are insulting”, illustrated his ignorance of Franc

“We won’t stand being insulted like this. We will retaliate, that’s not a problem. Mr. Taylor, he will learn than in France we don’t insult people like they do in other countries. We are respectful, we work, we will stay proud and we will continue to fight against this type of person. He’s a megalomaniac. To give our company with 1,170 people to this person is suicide,” CGT official Mickael Wamen said on Feb. 21.

“Coming back to Mr. Taylor, saying he will pay a euro an hour to Chinese workers to give us crappy products, excuse my language, but crappy products for our French farmers, I’d like to see that,” he added.

Head of French employers’ union MEDEF, Laurence Parisot said Taylor’s letter was “unacceptable” and while she agreed there were some irregularities in the French way of working, she said to generalize it to the whole of France was “shocking”.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co’s Amiens Nord plant employs 1,250 people, who have been battling demands they work more shifts or accept layoffs. The site now faces closure.

Talks last year with Titan over a possible rescue fell down after a failure to reach a deal with unions on voluntary redundancies.