Pat Russo may not speak much French yet, but the woman who on Friday became the first female chief executive of a CAC 40 company is already displaying a talent for the kind of diplomatic discourse so eloquently exercised in Paris.
Announcing the creation this week of Alcatel-Lucent, the telecommunications giant created from the merger of the French and US companies, Ms Russo was careful to avoid the Anglo-Saxon bluntness that can set France’s politicians and unions on the warpath.
Yes, close to 9,000 jobs would be cut, but the American dubbed Kamikaze Pat back home for her decisive action at Lucent stressed that the cuts would take as long as necessary.
“We will adhere to the process that is in place in each country,” she said. “The time it takes to complete will vary according to the laws in each region.”
It was a subtle signal to a workforce already nervous that the job cuts could be much higher, and to a French political establishment deeply suspicious of the American style of free-market capitalism.
For Alcatel and Lucent maintaining momentum and morale in a competitive telecoms market, while cutting 10 per cent of the worldwide workforce, remains the biggest threat to successful integration.
Unions are determined to resist, especially in France where many fear the job cuts will fall most heavily.
The CGT union has dubbed the deal “One wedding and 9,000 funerals” and called for workers to oppose the cuts.
Nevertheless there is a certain pride in Parisian business circles at having an American woman at the helm of an emblematic French company.
In a country struggling to see itself as modern and innovative, Ms Russo’s presence has been cited as a welcome breach in the traditional corps of elite, largely male “patrons” who run French business.
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