In Memoriam — Jacques Calvet (September 19, 1931 – April 9, 2020)

Jacques Calvet, former CEO of Peugeot Citroën from 1984 to 1997, and a major figure in both the business and political communities died yesterday at 88 years of age.     

A graduate of the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the National School of Administration, Jacques started his career at the Cour des comptes in 1957. Two years later he joined the cabinet of Valery Giscard d’Estaing, then-Secretary of State for Finance, which he followed to become chief of staff when Giscard d’Estaing was appointed Minister of Economy and Finance.  The two men separated when Giscard d’Estaing was elected president of the Republic in 1974 and Jacques Calvet left for BNP, a bank then controlled by the state. 

The Peugeot family enlisted Jacques in 1982, to sort out dire finances resulting from the acquisition of Citroën by Peugeot seven years earlier.  He arrived in a company on the verge of bankruptcy and guided the company to a spectacular recovery.  The former great clerk discovered an allure beyond politics; and in becoming the CEO of Peugeot Citroën in just 2 years, the pleasure and power of being the boss of a major company.  

Calvet deeply restructured the company, which was refocused on two brands: Peugeot and Citroën. To accomplish that he put an end to the Talbot brand. He successfully launched the Peugeot 205 and 405 models which relaunched the company.  He also launched the Peugeot 605 and Citroën XM with further success making the company a leading European car manufacturer.  To summarize: “The company he came to in 1982 was almost bankrupt with 30.5 billion in debt. In 1997, he left it with 17.6 billion in equity.  Restructuring was fairly hard since the company’s workforce decreased by 50% over the period in the context of difficult strikes.

Calvet’s rescue of Peugeot Citroën was done in a context of confrontation with the left.  In 1987, President François Mitterrand reportedly told him “You are my most dangerous adversary”.  Calvet was the first CEO to participate in the political television show ‘L’Heure de Vérité’, on October 3, 1988.  He continually positioning himself as a defender of the French automobile in his speeches and interviews, doing so against the “technocrats of Brussels”, attacking with passion the opening of European borders to Japanese cars, and to European currency devaluations.  He also took part in the movement against the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that reformed and amended the treaties establishing the European Communities, the European Union’s first pillar.

“It is with great sadness that I learn of the death of Jacques Calvet and I would like to express on behalf of all the employees of the PSA Group our sincere condolences to his wife and his family,” reacted the current CEO of PSA, Carlos Tavares.  “Jacques Calvet, a great visionary, managed the company from 1984 to 1997, to make it a leading automobile manufacturer. I want to salute the memory of this great industry captain who leaves us, endowed with rare courage and unfailing determination that must inspire us.”

His passing was announced by his son. The cause of death was not disclosed. There will be an intimate family funeral service.

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