I'm sure you all remember the media furore in France and elsewhere about the wave of suicides at France Telecom in the last 18 months. Back then I wrote a piece entitled Of Dinosaurs, Evolution and Suicides trying to explore the issue, it's causes and it's consequences.
Part of the political aftermath of the "suicide scandal" was that FT's number 2 Louis-Pierre Wenes was forced to resigned and was quickly replaced by Stéphane Richard, who is to take over from Didier Lombard as CEO in the coming months. Richard has surprised many since he joined France Telecom by his candid style of communication and the fact that he did not hesitate to question some of the strategic choices made in the past including content exclusivity.
Richard was invited on French radio Europe 1 a couple of weeks back but I only saw the interview today (reason being that he ousted the Apple Tablet back then…) But that's not what stunned me. What stunned me is the following exchange, at the very beginning of the interview. I'm writing it down in French and then translating it to make sure that I'm not getting the meaning wrong in translation. JPE is the interviewer Jean-Pierre Elkabbach:
JPE: Il faut rappeler que des cadres et des salariés avaient choisi par désespoir le suicide, est-ce que vous sentez que la vague de morts volontaires peut être stoppée ?
SR: Ce serait présomptueux de dire cela. Je pense que malheureusement, il continuera d'y avoir des suicides probablement dans l'entreprise. Ce que nous essayons de faire, clairement, c'est de reconstruire une entreprise. D'abord ça commence par un nouveau pacte social.
Here is my translation, hopefully as faithful as possible to the original:
JPE: I remind [our listeners] that some managers and employees had chosen in despair to commit suicide. Do you feel that the wave of voluntary deaths can be stopped?
SR: It would be presomptuous to say that. I think that unfortunately, there will continue to be suicides in the company, probably. What we are trying to do, clearly, is to rebuild the company. It begins with a new social contract.
"There will continue to be suicides in the company…"
I can't believe the guy said that. I jumped in my chair when I heard it. I'm torn between admiration at the candor of the statement and disgust at the cynicism of it. Most business leaders would have been forceful: "we have a moral obligation to stop it" or something like that.
I don't quite know what to think, except that this guy certainly isn't like the previous guy…
The full video interview (in French):