In memoriam Edouard Michelin
It is five years today since the death of Edouard Michelin. The then 43-year old company chief executive lost his life in a boating accident along with Guillaume Normant, an experienced deep sea fisherman. Although the seas were calm that day, it appears their boat became enveloped in rapidly forming fog. Edouard Michelin drowned and his body was discovered later that same day near the Isle de Sein off the northwest coast of France; his fishing companion wasn’t found. Upon the discovery of the sunken boat on the Atlantic sea floor it became apparent that a thick cable had tangled around its propeller. Non-subscribers can view the full text of this article, by copying this URL into your browser's address bar: http://magazines.tyrepress.com/InmemoriamEdouardMichelin.html
His wife and six children, the entire family and of course the Michelin Group, along with friends and even competitors, were hard hit by this enormous tragedy. Back then Edouard Michelin was seen as the French company’s great hope and had already restructured and modernised the group with great success, and in doing so reinvented its public image and fostered a sense of satisfaction and pride amongst the workforce, a pride in working for an exceptional employer.
Under his authoritative leadership the Michelin Charter was introduced. The values embodied in this document are summarised by the following five points:
– Respect for customers
– Respect for people
– Respect for shareholders
– Respect for the environment
– Respect for facts
In cannot be emphasised enough that Edouard Michelin didn’t just commit the Michelin Charter to paper; instead, he led by example in each point. In this way an entirely outstanding corporate culture that took all these valuable standards into consideration was cultivated and further developed. This ensured that values such as respect, loyalty, decency, faithfulness and integrity have never been neglected.
Even as a young man, Edouard Michelin had already developed into a charismatic leader and his impact upon the Michelin companies was tremendous. He was eminently respected by the business elite both in France and internationally.
The recent “Challenge Bibendum 2011” gave a fresh and clear reminder of Edouard Michelin’s visionary qualities; the inaugural “Challenge Bibendum,” run late last millennium between Chermont-Ferrand and Paris, set out what were to become the event’s main foci: a summit on climate change, climatic catastrophe and CO2 emissions. This was at a time when ‘green’ tyres were often still viewed as a marketing stunt and reports about energy shortages and costs were at times (still) considered doom-mongering. Today it is clear that solutions must be found – the more immediate problems must be solved even more quickly than originally thought necessary. Edouard Michelin recognised these now pressing issues very early on and posed himself and his company some very important questions. The “Challenge Bibendum” event was a matter near to the heart of a young chief executive who in a few weeks time would have turned 48 years old.
So cruelly taken from this life, the Michelin boss was deeply missed immediately. According to many observers and employees, the atmosphere within the company changed. Arguably, not every change was positively received or found over time to be necessary. Since that time nothing has improved or become worse, however much has changed.
It is said that time heals all wounds. But this doesn’t always prove the case. A figure like Edouard Michelin is much more deeply missed today than five years ago.