A Little Bit of Dallas in Clermont-Ferrand
Whether 1966-born Jean-Philippe Rouchon really is the illegitimate son of Patrice Michelin, who died in 2006, is a case for the court to officially decide. On October 12, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris set a November 9 hearing date for the issue. Lately, French newspapers have been filled with reports and the internet is abuzz with alleged or actual titbits of information on the matter, and Rouchon himself is clearly aware of how to use the media to his own advantage. In videos it can be seen and heard that it is not really all about the money (although it does play a role, for example with inheritance, as today the Michelin family belongs to the five or six richest families in France with wealth that goes far beyond the Michelin Group’s assets) but rather ensuring justice and making amends. He has surely suffered, having to lead a hidden life somewhere while the esteemed members of the large Michelin family lived happily like children sitting under the Christmas tree.
This much is known to be fact: The company founder’s grandson conducted a long-term liaison over many years with Annick Rouchon. In the 1960s she lived not far away from the company’s headquarters in an apartment that belonged to the grandson, and she remains there to this day. There were also – notarially documented – regular payments from Patrice Michelin to Annick Rouchon and numerous letters exist that not just show how much Patrice adored Annick, but that he also trusted her implicitly. When the grandson died in 2006, the arguments began when those that inherited the apartment wanted to dispose of it and evict Annick. When Jean-Philippe Rouchon sought to make contact with Patrice Michelin’s family several years ago, he was, if the online news source lepost.fr is to be believed, curtly rebuffed. A close relative allegedly said that the family didn’t want to get to know the bastard (“bâtard”).
And what does the Michelin Group have to say about all this? Nothing! And why should it? It’s only all about someone who bears a famous name. Who really knows which members of the several hundred strong but very secretive family still retain control of the Group that carries the family name? The only thing that is certain is that, thanks to the Group’s legal set-up, the family can still control the company. Patrice Michelin, grandson of company founder André Michelin, was by all accounts never active within the Michelin Group and instead lived part of the time in Switzerland and managed a vineyard in Aubonne. He married in 1954 and shot his wife Nicole, with whom he had three children, in a hunting accident in 1960. The court imposed a 2,000 franc fine as penalty. Subsequently he began an affair with Annick Rouchon that the French newspapers referred to as a “wild liaison”, and this continued after Patrice Michelin wed for a second time in 1965. Four further children resulted from this marriage, while on 8 December 1966 Jean-Philippe Rouchon was born. In 1968 Annick Rouchon ended the “wild liaison” as Patrice was chasing too many skirts, even though he is said to have repeatedly promised to marry her.
Several French press reports even quote that Patrice Michelin confessed in writing to his long-term lover that it hadn’t been a hunting accident. Patrice Michelin put much in writing, and some of this has now surfaced during court proceedings.
Whatever proves to be the case or not: Other bearers of the famous name have already been involved in affairs. That one of these must now be “reheated” after 40 years in order to settle legal claims, is not really a problem for the Michelin Group that was founded together by André Michelin (1853-1931) and Edouard Michelin (1859-1940). It is perhaps annoying, but nothing more.
This is a family that has been hard hit by fate and tragedy over the decades:
1932 Etienne Michelin, son of company founder Edouard Michelin, is fatally injured in a plane crash. Etienne’s son François – the legendary and today 84-year old patriarch of the Michelin family, if one may call it that – was six years old at the time.
1937 Pierre, another of Edouard Michelin’s sons, lost his life in a car accident. The brothers’ accident sites are only 20 kilometres apart.
1945 Marcel Michelin, son of company founder André, was murdered in Buchenwald concentration camp.
1943 Marcel’s son Jean-Pierre Michelin lost his life in Corsica while fighting in the Resistance. Today he is still celebrated as a Resistance hero.
1949 The 29-year old grandson of company founder André, Jean-Luc Michelin, is killed when his Bugatti crashes. Both his daughters and the girls’ nanny also die in the accident. Jean-Luc was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp; he had been accused of stealing plans from a German vehicle manufacturer.
1949 A further terrible accident occurred. Daniel Michelin, the brother of Jean-Luc, ran over and killed his child while parking his car.
1960 The above-mentioned hunting accident. Through negligent handling of a hunting weapon Patrice Michelin, grandson of company founder André Michelin, fatally injured his first wife.
2006 The great tragedy involving Edouard Michelin, son of François Michelin. Following a long period spent gaining experience he took over leadership of the Michelin Group at the end of the last century and had prepared the company superbly for the future, when on 26 May 2006 he drowned in largely unexplained circumstances while fishing near an island.
The patriarch of the Michelin Group, François Michelin, has lived through many highs plus many tragic lows. He was orphaned as a small boy and grew up in the custody of his grandmother Therese and aunt Marthe Rollier. François Michelin became head of the company in 1955 and handed over the leadership to his son Edouard in 1999. Throughout most of the years between these two dates François Michelin worked together with his cousin François Rollier as co-gérant. This set-up continued following François Michelin’s retirement: His son Edouard was the gérant (managing partner), his 20 or so year older cousin Michel Rollier the co-gérant (chief financial officer). Now it remains for the already 66-year old Rollier to handle the task of preparing the next generation for entry into the company. To this end Rollier only recently stated that his current contract applies until he reaches the age of 72. Rather than growing weary of holding office, he will utilise this time. Also for the family.