Golden Parachutes or Organized Cartel: which is more popular?

scrooge-mcduckLast week my company, Valeo, made the frontpage of all the big newspapers (at least in Europe) as our CEO stepped down and was given a 3.2M€ “golden parachute” farewell bonus in spite of the company needing governmental aid to stay afloat. The French government promptly started working on a new law to ban such bonuses in companies receiving financial aids.

His replacement was nominated at the same time as the ex-CEO of Saint Gobain, a high-tech materials manufacturer mostly known for its glass products (your car’s windshield and windows have a good chance of coming from them). The interesting thing being that he had to step down last December when Saint Gobain was indicted for price-fixing cartel by the European Union and fined for 900M€.

The interesting part is the reactions I observed on my French and Japanese colleagues as they heard the news:

  • French people follow the news about the company and were all talking about it the Monday morning after the announcement.
    • The bonus, although everyone thinks it’s pretty tasteless in our situation, was more or less expected.
    • However people are really shocked that the new CEO’s last accomplishment was getting his company indicted for the very serious offense of price-fixing.
  • For my Japanese colleagues, I had to break the details of the news to them as the local papers are much more interested in the latest development of the North Korean missile threat.
    • They are pretty much outraged about the bonus.
    • When told about the cartel affair, their reaction is incredulity: “Europe is really severe on those things…”

Funny how the points of view differ on the subject.

United States of France

Speaking of politics, this article from TIME Magazine is pretty funny, if not pathetic:

You just know the Frogs have only increased their disdain for us, if that is indeed possible. And why shouldn’t they? The average American is working two and a half jobs, gets two weeks off and has all the employment security of a one-armed trapeze artist. The Bush Administration has preached the “ownership society” to America: own your house, own your retirement account; you don’t need the government in your way. So Americans mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy overpriced houses they can no longer afford and signed up for 401(k) programs that put money — where, exactly? In the stock market! Where rich Republicans fleeced them.


We’ve always dismissed the French as exquisitely fed wards of their welfare state. They work, what, 27 hours in a good week, have 19 holidays a month, go on strike for two days and enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch — except for the 25% of the population working for the government, who have an even sweeter deal. They retire before their kids finish high school, and they don’t have to save for $45,000-a-year college tuition, because college is free. For this, they pay a tax rate of about 103%, and their labor laws are so restrictive that they haven’t had a net gain in jobs since Napoleon. There is no way the French government can pay for this lifestyle forever, except that it somehow does.

Anyways, with all the financial institutions going bankrupt everywhere, I’m just glad Nomura bought back Lehman Brothers’ Asian operation and saved the jobs of 2 of my friends… at least for now.

Home for Christmas

I’m back home, in Paris, for Christmas week. It’s the 1st time I come home since I left for Japan 2 years ago (I had an 18 hour stopover once in early 2006 on my way to a business trip in Czech Republic but it doesn’t really count).

It really feels strange to be back in the motherland. First there’s the obvious culture shock: I wasn’t even off the plane when the pilot announces over the PA system that there are abandoned luggage near our gate’s conveyor and we’d have to wait 15-20min for the police to “secure the premises”…

where's the bomb squad?

So we were 35min early, no biggy still 20min ahead of schedule when this hurdle clears up. We’re finally let off the plane, but then right before getting to immigration, a security gate blocks us for no obvious reasons. Again we wait, 15 minutes, no information from any airport staff, and when finally we’re let through I check the time and it’s exactly the time we were supposed to land. I guess it would’ve looked bad on the record to let people out early.

Anyways, enough with tales of the great efficiency of Paris’ Charles de Gaulles international airport. Worse than that for me is walking on the streets of Paris or taking the Metro and listening to all the meaningless conversations around me. It irritates me to unfathomable levels.

I can’t help it: living in Japan, you develop a superhuman capacity to spot your own language from great distances (kind of like Spiderman’s danger detection spider-sense). But when I’m back home, this ability backlashes and I go into sensory-overload, unable to tune-out or ignore the dullest dribbles of conversations in my vicinity.

It’s hell on earth, and I find myself seeking the soothing sound of Japanese tourists’ high-pitched 「すてき!!!」 and other exclamations in front of Notre-Dame…