In France last week, I co-hosted a dinner in honor of Catherine Kinney who recently moved to Paris to run Euronext, the Paris-based bourse, in which the New York Stock Exchange now has majority ownership. They've sent the right woman for the job. Cathy was Co-COO of the NYSE until her move and has worked closely with NYSE's CEO John Thain in taking the NYSE public and turning it into a truly global operation.
Among the dinner attendees was Christine Lagarde, mentioned in my blog post yesterday about her roused the French with her audacious call to action; specifically to get to work rather than sit around philosophizing.
There was lots of discussion around the dinner table about the "new France." Seems premature (President Sarkozy has been in office just months) but the French executives at the dinner are optimistic about the change they sense among rank and file workers, not just their peers in the board rooms of global companies.
I asked if this whiff of change was wafting only through Paris. No, they said: Tout Le France is excited, ready for change, even if it means sacrificing the sacred 35 hour work week for which France is famous.
I wasn't so sure I should believe that so on my travels to the Dordogne region later in the week, I asked people I met there what they were thinking about developments around this issue. Most were rank and file, some small business owners, none of them senior execs. To a person they said they had voted for Sarkozy (where are all the people who voted for Royale on the Socialist ticket?) because they feel France has a chance - if they embrace the change he represents - to remain viable and even thrive in the increasingly competitive global marketplace. One said, "We've always felt the government should take care of us. No need to work too hard. I see that's going to kill France and our kids won't want to make up for what we lose if we don't get motivated now."
Wow! This is a whole new conversation for the French. We shall see...