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Published: July 1, 1996

 
 

The Passionate Leader: An Interview With Jean Rene Fourtou

I would say that to the worker and to the chairman alike. In my opinion, problems started in companies when the workers and the C.E.O.'s stopped sitting together, stopped eating together, stopped sharing.

But I must tell you, you cannot have empowered people without also having tensions. You have to live with tensions, you have to accept tensions. But it is more important to have people empowered and sharing visions and objectives than it is to have tranquillity.

S&B: So a certain measure of conflict is acceptable within companies?

Jean-René Fourtou: Oh, yes. When there is conflict, there is vitality. But conflicts must be managed and there must be procedures for managing them -- even for measuring them -- inside the company. This is needed so that the conflict is creative.

When I was a consultant, we invented a way of looking at degrees of conflict and harmony and of plotting them on a grid that has synergy on one axis and antagonism on the other. We separated the matrix-grid into 16 different boxes, each of which represented a type of relationship between these two extremes. Using this grid, we were able to explain to people the kinds of relationships they were having inside their organizations and we were also able to train people.

With that knowledge, you can help people to move from one kind of relationship into another and to manage the tensions and conflicts. As a result, we were able to create conditions where there was more vitality and where people take responsibility. We trained more than 5,000 people in these techniques.

S&B: Is passion enough?

Jean-René Fourtou: You must be skillful, you must be organized, you must have a system -- a system that is really perfectly suited for your company -- and, of course, you need management and computer systems and concepts. But, by the same token, if all you have are procedures and concepts and computer systems, then you kill the organization and you kill the spirit of the people who work there. You need a balance between order and disorder. But there must also be a tension between them -- a creative, vibrant tension.

S&B: Have you brought these techniques to Rhône-Poulenc?

Jean-René Fourtou: Well, many of these ideas were developed for the consulting firm, where people are partners, where they have to be consulted, where they need to be regarded for their ideas. That place, I thought at first, was a different environment from an industrial firm with manufacturing plants, huge budgets and a large scale.

But I decided to try anyway to bring a sense of empowerment into this big company. I decided to make the top managers feel like partners, like a community of shareholders. So, in my second year here, I proposed to the senior managers that they all buy shares. And they did. These managers all agreed to buy shares equal to one year's worth of compensation. It was a huge commitment, which we were able to help by offering financing. But I wanted them to reach, to change, to feel like partners.

Almost immediately, I noticed a change in the relationships between the people in this group. I noticed it more internally than I did in their relationships with the outside. The goodwill was huge, the community feeling grew, the exchanges between people intensified and became more creative.

But while feelings changed, the funny thing was that not that much changed with respect to having people focus on profits and the value of their shares. They grew closer, but surprisingly, they did not focus more on profits.

 
 
 
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