Departure, French-style: Miraton leaves – the market comes
Didier Miraton, at 53 years of age nearing the pinnacle of his strength and ability, is leaving the Michelin Group after 29 years. Miraton is taking his golden handshake and leaving quietly. The Michelin Group is also doing what it does so well in cases like this: Keeping quiet. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that the departure of top-notch manager Miraton – who hoped to step into the leading position within the company following the retirement of Michel Rollier – is linked to a change in direction at Michelin. Managing general partner Rollier, a man known for his financial expertise, shared his power with both managing partners, Jean-Dominique Senard and Didier Marathon; it has been decided that when Rollier leaves Senard alone will take on leadership of the eleven-member Executive Board. It is likely that Miraton considered this measure an affront.
However on this occasion the silence from those involved has been rather loud and much criticism has been subtly leveled towards Miraton and the company’s R&D department. The talk is of technical chimeras such as the failed Pax system and the ‘secret weapon’ that was Michelin’s C3M process, two things that admittedly were only familiar to employees working directly on them, and it is deliberately overlooked that Miraton merely discovered these and was not their inventor. At least no mention has been made – so far – of Michelin seizing onto the “Active Wheel” concept. Its invention by Ferdinand Porsche lies more than 100 years in the past and to-date it is by no means clear how the so-called “Active Wheel” will accompany the increasingly important application of rolling resistance optimisation. At any rate it is noteworthy to see that only “chimeras” are being mentioned by the press while numerous tangible successes are overlooked.
The upcoming change of staff is, when properly observed and understood, a change in direction. Michelin is on its way to becoming a completely normal tyre manufacturer that holds the goal of bringing top-quality, technically flawless products to market around the world, but has perhaps not seen that it’s not necessary to re-invent the wheel every time. Tyres are round, black, and have steel belts, and the rubber compounds employed are more or less well-known. Every year sees not dozens of new patents lodged, rather hundreds if not thousands, yet the age of major leaps forward is over and progress now consists of many, many small steps. The era when a tyre company knew it could bring a breakthrough development to market and then skim the cream off it for years to come also lies in the past. Anything newly introduced will be copied by market followers within 12 months.
When Senard assumes leadership, it will be the second time, after Rollier, that a finance specialist has taken the reins and sought to measure success in numbers, and under whose leadership marketing will take on a greater weight as the company places a focus on marketing its established products and pushing what is tried and tested. The message seem clear: Investment will not be any less than before, but it will be more target-oriented and differently apportioned, with redefined priorities.
To-date the R&D department has, at least according to the impression of many at Michelin, issued diktats to the company, compelling it to sell everything that is developed and to seek out or carve out a market for these products. What’s good will always win through – researchers and developers are only to ready to believe this. Under Senard’s leadership implementation timeframes for new developments must immediately be greatly reduced.
The words being publicly bandied about in France are a bit rich and it goes without saying that facts have been turned into mincemeat. Research & development has been elevated to a ‘Holy of Holies’. It’s been established that with C3M and Pax the ‘wrong horse’ was backed. This is an indirect way of saying that those responsible for this must go.
Although Michelin was very successful over the last decade, made much headway in Asia and competed neck and neck with Goodyear in America (and in contrast with the US firm also made money there), Bridgestone showed itself to be even better and quicker and was able to establish its leadership. Now Michelin is signaling its intention to pursue.
Hopes are now pinned on Jean-Dominique Senard. Managers close to him describe Senard as a sharp analyser and someone who is easy to work with. He has, admittedly, no more time for ‘the wrong horses’ and wants less than ever that Michelin should keep waiting and placing its trust in yet more new developments over the coming years. It sounds like a case of Lord grant me patience, but quickly!