Magazine article The Spectator

Missing the X-Factor?

Magazine article The Spectator

Missing the X-Factor?

Article excerpt

THERE was mystification all round when it was announced that Pierre-Yves Gerbeau was to take charge of the Dome. Why did our emblematic, national symbol require a Frenchman to turn it around? There was more puzzlement when it turned out that M. Gerbeau was not a prodigy who had transformed the fortunes of Euro Disney, but only a middle-ranking junior executive.

The Spectator, however, may be in a position to enlighten the British public. There was, and is, another Frenchman, whose surname is pronounced in exactly the same way but with an 'x'. His Christian name is Jean-Marie. From 1989 to 1995 M. Gerbeaux was head of communications at Euro Disney and is credited by insiders as having turned around the attraction in 1994.

The question has to be asked: had there been a terrible mistake? Had the government and the New Millennium Experience Company been flummoxed by the X factor? Got the wrong Gerbeau? Netted the wrong frog? Had the Dome gang made another coq-up?

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau has been hailed as a potential 'saviour'. Admittedly, he has not done badly so far. In January, sales figures showed that there were just 366,000 paying visitors; but in February attendances rose. No one, however, seemed to know much about M. Gerbeau. He joined Disney in 1991, having been an ice-hockey player. It then turned out that he was in a modest position there, involved in the dayto-day running of the attraction. JeanMarie Gerbeaux, on the other hand, had been employed in the infinitely superior role of director. Pierre-Yves was paid only 05,000 a year (he is, controversially, receiving 100,000 at the Dome). JeanMarie Gerbeaux was paid more than double that amount. He is 52. His career would seem to be among the most glittering of his generation. He is the proud holder of a licence de sociologie and a certificat de maitrise economie politique et sociale. 'Pee Wee' announced, winsomely, that he needed only his three-year-old daughter, C16mence, who would be his closest adviser. 'She has been to all the Disney parks. She will bring an extraordinary expertise of her own.'

Jean-Marie Gerbeaux joined Euro Disney in 1989 from Renault where he had worked since 1971 as internal and external director of communications. At Euro Disney he was head of corporate communications. Then, in 1995, he became vice-president of the huge company Elf Aquitaine. He is now a senior executive at SNCF, France's national railway company. He is married with one child, and the family live in a large house in the expensive Rue de Cond6 in Paris. He is bilingual in French and English (speaking the latter more fluently than his namesake) and conversant in German.

According to the French cognoscenti Jean-Marie is one of the most admired brains in Paris. 'He has an extremely important job, to say the least,' said Cair Leguent, a financial correspondent at Le Figaro newspaper. 'To be running external and internal communications is a very senior responsibility.' M. Gerbeaux's colleagues certainly treat him as a man of substance. There is no 'Bonjour. Hi, guys, it's great to be here!' - the mid-Atlantic camaraderie as displayed by 'Pee Wee'. He is shielded by a legion of secretaries. When I telephoned he was in a meeting with the head of SNCF. 'He is too busy to be disturbed,' said an assistant. Could I speak to him later? 'He is a very busy man. Please send your questions by fax. He will reply in English. …

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