François Michelin, former head of the Michelin Group and grandson of company co-founder Édouard Michelin, died today at the age of 89.
Francois Michelin was born June 15, 1926 in Clermont-Ferrand. He spent more than half his life at his family’s company, serving as its CEO from 1955 to 1999 and maintaining an active role until his retirement in 2002.
Under François Michelin’s leadership, and driven by his passion for innovation as well as his uncompromising attention to quality, the company experienced unprecedented growth.
When he started his career with Michelin in 1951 François Michelin worked under a false name with regular factory workers, to learn on the job. He first worked as a fitter, then a driver, and later in sales and marketing.
As CEO of Michelin he increased the marketshare from the tenth top tire manufacturer in the world to number one. For example, from 1960 to 1979, he opened twenty-five new factories globally, even as far away as Vietnam. He hired Carlos Ghosn in 1978 to expand Michelin’s marketshare in the United States. After he acquired Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. in 1990, Michelin dominated the US marketshare. While the buyout incurred debt for the company, Michelin stood firm in his decision to consolidate. By 1994, he was proved right, as the company was solvent again.
He pioneered the use of the radial tire, which became the gold standard of tires globally thanks to him. In 1993, he launched the green tire, which helps cars consume less fuel.
His leadership style was non-hierarchical. He believed in listening to all employees no matter what their ranks or social statuses were. He also believed in letting his employees take risks to innovate. Moreover, he believed business needed to be conducted discreetly and stressed the need for confidentiality.
He was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 2009.
François Michelin dedicated his life to the company. He headed it for 47 years, when he handed over the reins to his son Edouard who was tragically killed in a 2006 boating accident.
Jean-Dominique Senard, Chief Executive Officer of the Michelin Group, said: “On behalf of the Group’s employees, I would like to pay special tribute to this exceptional man who was universally respected for his values, his convictions, and his vision.”
Neither the Michelin Group nor François’ family have stated a cause of death. Funeral arrangements will be announced soon.