The takeover of Alstom: What if the main problem were elsewhere?

Dear friends,

This month, just for once, I’m going to write you an ‘opinion piece’, as they say in ‘Journalese’. I have called it:

The takeover of Alstom: What if the main problem were elsewhere?

©Ruth Mössmer

©Ruth Mössmer

"It is true that the future of one of the ‘flagships of the French industry’ is at stake. As the long economic crisis in France continues, the takeover of a nerve centre of Alstom by a foreign group will weaken the already low morale of the French even more.

I hear loud indignant cries of national protest! But in the global village the world is today, is the main issue really the country a company comes from, however talented it is? Anyway, Alstom has grown into an international company over the years. Shouldn’t the priority be the sustainability of the company? Shouldn’t its vast innovation potential be what must survive?

What do both these factors rely on? On men and women of course – managers, engineers and specialized workers, who are at the heart of what remains the pride of such a performing manufacturer.

So we should not forget that, beyond the financial and legal aspects, which are unavoidable in such an important undertaking, a business combination mainly brings two teams of leaders face to face. They are legally bound to agree, over all other considerations, so as to draft a new common strategic vision of the future entity.

There will be two company cultures and what’s more, they will originate from two different countries. It is a major challenge of course. But what is essential is to fully understand the stakes for Alstom, which is what the two executive committees have to succeed in doing.

They will have to do their utmost to save what should be – the ‘good practices’ –  and, in terms of management, reinvent a collective intelligence that must be operational as soon as possible. So, in this case, it is not a question of being within the logic of the ‘OR’, a choice between General Electric and Siemens, but more between the logic of the ‘AND’, in other words, 1+1=3. In short, the creative spirit of the leaders will have to be trans-cultural, in the broad sense of the word.

Whether the French at Alstom work in harmony with the Americans from General Electric or the Germans from Siemens, I believe the difficulties will be exactly the same. Apart from a few language problems, the main issues will be mutual open-mindedness and attentiveness,  technical confrontation and conceptual flexibility  (with the fewest possible pre-conceived ideas) , but also, above all, agreeing on a certain number of fundamental values that at are the root of any large industrial entity, in short, human qualities and strong technical skills. It is these factors that will make a success of the project. Within the two companies bidding for the M§A transaction for Alstom, namely General Electric and Siemens, the real question is who are the men of ‘good will’ who will know how to combine their experience and added value intelligently to best serve high level, wide-ranging innovation? And for these people to put their best foot forward, in an extremely complex context, with an unfortunately very small timeframe, necessary support with certified coaches seems absolutely indispensable. Indeed, the ‘metaposition’ filled by such professionals, along with their behaviour decoding acuity, helps to leave no ‘blind corners’ in the negotiations that might bring about future organizational inadequation or disagreement among the executives. They facilitate the emergence of a truly shared vision, substantiated by more realistic foundations that are therefore more achievable.

It seems obvious here that all this has nothing to do with being American or German. Thus, what I dare to call our ‘chauvinistic French ego’ is quite uncalled for these days and even, may I say, ‘no longer relevant at all’; After all, I believe it is true to say that the French State coffers are empty and the French taxpayers bled dry, aren’t they?"