He had been one of the only big bosses to occupy an important ministry after a career as a business leader. One of the few to take this dangerous step towards an unknown world. Francis Mer, director of the steel giant Arcelor, then minister of the economy and finance (2002-2004) in the first two governments of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, died, Wednesday 1er November, at 84 years old. It was the former tenant of Matignon who announced it on X (ex-Twitter), evoking “uncompromising ethics, complete loyalty, a desire to serve”.
Tall stature, square jaw, scrutinizing gaze, sharp words, the man born in Pau in 1939, married and father of three children, always impressed his interlocutors. Close advisor to Mr. Mer at Bercy, today CEO of EDF, Luc Rémont remembers“a deep, whole, honest personality”. ” It was, he adds, a large industrialist who was keen to understand professions and develop them through their know-how and human talents. And if he could be tough as a boss, he was tough on ideas, never on people, developing a deep affection for his teams. »
After Polytechnique (X-59) and the Ecole des Mines, then four years in the service of the State, he joined Saint-Gobain in 1971. He quickly held the positions of CEO of several subsidiaries until heading Pont-à -Mousson, one of the major centers of the gl and materials group. But it was in 1986 that he emerged from the shadows, when the Chirac government appointed him head of Usinor. Objective: continue the restructuring of the steel industry launched ten years earlier in the Lorraine basin.
The confidence of trade unionists
He integrated Sacilor into Usinor, which he continued to manage after its privatization in 1995. Then he created Arcelor in 2001, by merging its group with Luxembourg’s Arbed and Spain’s Aceralia, to make it the world’s leading steelmaker. Under his mandate, the French steel industry went from 116,000 to 46,000 employees, with the State injecting 100 billion francs in the sector between 1975 and 1995, the majority of which finances early retirement at age 55 and training plans. Industrial equipment is modernizing, the sector is doing better.
Mr. Mer does not come away with the image of a boss who sends factories and workers to the scrapyard. He even gained the trust of trade unionists: some credit him with qualities such as rigor, morality and frankness. It must be said that in 1991, once the hemorrhage of jobs had been stopped, he negotiated a skills management agreement, Cap 2000. The industrialist will always remain convinced that professional training is the best et for adapting jobs to changes. economic. One way to illustrate an idea that this Christian boss reaffirms: “The economic system must be at the service of man, and not the other way around. »
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