Purpose – The purpose of this study is to explore some of the distinctive features of organizing and organization in France which set it apart from organization in other nations, and which are fundamental to its modus operandi. In particular, this article is concerned with elite connectivity and concerted action by elite “connectors”.
Design/methodology/approach – The research underpinning this article stems from a cross-national comparative project on business elites and corporate governance in France and the UK. This has three dimensions, being quantitative, qualitative and case study-based. Concerted action by the ruling elite is explored through two illustrative vignettes: the ousting from office of Jean-Marie Messier and State-sponsored expansion as pursued by EDF. Both examples shed light on the French business elite’s response to globalization and the development of international business.
Findings – The paper finds elite cohesion to be achieved quite differently in the two countries. In addition, it finds that the ties that bind French connectors tend to be strong and institutionally based.
Practical implications – The case of EDF suggests that the most ambitious of State-sponsored strategies can also be the most successful. It implies that elite ideologies in France have deviated relatively little from sentiments expressed by Rousseau and de Gaulle concerning the primacy of the national interest and the conviction that firms can serve as an (expansionist) instrument of the nation. The Messier case illuminates the pattern of close relationships among the French business elite. It demonstrates how a strategy of expansion may come unstuck when it is not grounded in the customary modes of business regulation.
Originality/value – This research confirms a slight preference on the part of the French business elite for more homogenous ties. Against this, the paper demonstrates that a significant proportion of the French elite act as boundary spanners, brokering relationships with others from more distant parts of the wider network. The integration of the French elite in the Eurozone has potentially favored bridge-building relationships and weakened national embeddedness. This may contribute to the decline of indigenous interlocks, while promoting the further internationalization of top management teams. The implications of this for organizational strategy, firm survival and economic performance form an agenda for future research.
- Bridge-building relationships
- French business elites
- French business model
- State-business relations