Newspaper article International New York Times

Place Yourself in Your Employees' Shoes

Newspaper article International New York Times

Place Yourself in Your Employees' Shoes

Article excerpt

Michel Bernardaud is chairman and chief executive of the French porcelain house Bernardaud.

Michel Bernardaud is chairman and chief executive of the French porcelain house Bernardaud.

Q. You joined the family business in 1979. Had you always wanted to join? Did you have a choice?

A.Actually it came as a surprise when my father asked me to join, because he would never discuss business at home. I knew of course he was a well-known manufacturer in Limoges and the company was prestigious, but I had no clue about the business itself, its size, any sales or volume, really anything. In fact, I didn't say "yes" immediately, which was also a surprise for him [laughs]. I was 22 and just out of business school at HEC, working in Paris, life was good. But I thought about it and did say yes and I don't regret it.

Q. What advice did your father give you when you started?

A.Well, the problem is that he didn't give me any advice! He was not very talkative and I had to learn almost by myself. It was like throwing someone in the pool and asking them to swim. So it was not always easy, but on the other hand, he gave me almost free hand to try to grow the business in various countries of the world.

I was put in charge of exports outside of Europe. There was already someone managing exports in Europe and I worked with him. It wasn't always easy because I didn't want to step on anybody's toes, not be the son of the boss. I had to find my way but keep good relations with the management already in place. It's not always an easy balance but I tried to gain respect through working hard, being reasonably humble, though also assuming the fact that my name was that of the company. The good thing was, the company was not as developed as it is now. There were a lot of territories to open, so plenty of opportunities.

Q. Is being thrown into the deep end of the pool the best way to learn?

Honestly, it depends on the individual and the personalities. Retrospectively, I realize I learned a lot -- probably more than I thought at the time I was working with my father. …

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