of Commerce & Industry Paris Île-de-France – Pierre-Antoine Gailly, President
The president of the Paris chamber of commerce discusses how the Paris region can compete on a global level with other ‘global cities’, and offers his perspectives on what helps Paris stand out across its major industries.
Could you give us a brief presentation of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Paris and its region, and its major missions?
The CCIP is a public institution managed by private entrepreneurs. We have 98 members all elected by CEOs and COOs of the Paris region that represent some 700,000 voters. We represent all sizes of companies, ranging from the smallest to 40 of the 100 highest market caps on the Euronext Paris – the CAC 40 – in fields as diverse as industry, commerce and services. We have merged all the different chambers of commerce of the region into a single legal entity, which is a unique case in the Paris region. We have therefore the maximum resources for the front office in order to gain efficiency, but we have also showed to the government that such a gathering can be done. We are elected for a five-year term and we are all volunteers. This status is essential, as it gives us freedom of speech and action. We are indeed under the supervision of the government but our general assembly can vote according to its will and without pressure. We can be considered as a corporation service group that has to respond to the needs of its customers, if I may say so. In some areas, we are perfectly in accordance with what the government is pushing forward, when it comes for instance to the attractiveness of the region, but we diverge with the public authorities on the tax level for example.
What are, in your views, the major assets and strengths of the Paris region?
In most rankings, which are mainly Anglo-Saxon, the Paris region reaches the top four or five hub in the world. A “métropole” in a global economy is a place where you can find resources, a well-connected network, with a good level of education, good infrastructure that make it a hub, such as the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport and the high speed train (TGV). It has to be the center of a network that has its own capacity to produce. But beyond these assets, the unique values of the Paris region are, according to me, tourism and history. That might explain how Paris has maintained its position throughout the years.
Education appears as a key issue in your agenda…
Indeed! Education represents two thirds of our global budget. Among the 24 schools we manage, we find three of the best and oldest business schools in the world, namely HEC, ESSEC and ESCP Europe. Paris also has excellent engineering schools, law universities, mathematics faculties and medical schools. Our strength lies in our ability to combine the excellence of creative and mathematics institutions, for example to create new businesses. The heads of our best groups in France are a perfect mix of people from business and engineering schools. I think that more and more of our students will get this dual type of training. What Paris offers in its campuses like Saclay for example is that perfect combination. Students now have to be able to understand the world, deal with globalization and more and more uncertainty. It is very different from what it was 30 years ago.
You have been mentioning the importance for the region of transportation. What about the ongoing process of “Grand Paris”?
As we represent the whole region, it is easy for us to cope with very different types of territories. The western part of the region, for example, is a significant industrial center. We have the most important aerospace industry in the country, and this is unknown to many as Toulouse is usually what first comes to mind. Regarding transportation, we have passed an agreement with the president of the region Jean-Paul Huchon for the development of what we call the Pass Navigo which allows users to have a single fare across all zones of the Paris region. We consider it essential that people don’t spend too much money or time on public transportation. We try to ease the dwelling and transporting for the largest numbers. We try to enhance attractiveness not only for the people who live here but also for foreigners who are ready to invest.
How can a city like Paris compete with huge “world cities” like London, New York or Shanghai?
Of course, we don’t have the same geography or history of a city like London, but Paris has its own specific talents. I have a picture of Shanghai 20 years ago. It was mainly rice fields. This will never happen in New York City, London or Paris. Also, New York is a harbor, which is not the case of Paris. Two years ago, we created an association with our counterparts in the Normandy region, called Paris Normandie, dealing mainly with common business interests and the idea is to create an opening for us to the port of Le Havre.
How do you think the chamber can help change the misconceptions and prejudices that sometimes affect France and the Paris region?
We have to make sure that our traditional strengths such as social cohesion or our welfare system are not shattered while we continue to move forward and gain competitiveness. It is indeed a tradition for people abroad to criticize our country. In the meantime, foreign investments are increasing! All countries face some difficulties. Nowadays, we have to deal with sensitive questions like the integration of minorities. Even though we live in an unstable world, we just have to look at the positive aspects. When someone invests somewhere, they have to look at the global picture. We have to explain that the fact we have so many schools with students coming from everywhere helps us to balance our perception of things. Besides, most of them are less critical than the French themselves!
You are leading many projects dealing with medicine, transportation or urban policy. What about the oil and gas industry?
Regarding the oil and gas sector, we have most of the global headquarters of the leading French oil and gas companies in the country, even though these companies have little activity in the region as opposed to aerospace, luxury or fashion for example. This is why the CCIP never specialized in oil and gas issues.
On the other hand, we have consultative missions that lead specific studies on any kind of legal and regulatory matter that have effects on business. In that regard, we have done significant research on the energy transition process and we recently published a survey dealing with environmental questions in the nuclear, green energies, and oil and gas fields.
Our involvement with the oil and gas sector can also be found in our network of French chambers of commerce abroad. They are present in 80 countries and are a mix of French and local companies. Within their boards, there are representatives of energy companies like Total, EDF or GDF Suez. It is therefore another way to represent French interests abroad through our major companies.
Could you tell us more about the activity of the chamber regarding the organization of business fairs and seminars? To what extent do they contribute to the reputation of the Paris region abroad?
We have an entity called Viparis which is a private institution owned at 50 percent by the chamber, which operates and manages all venues for conferences and exhibitions, such as the Palais des Congrès, Paris Versailles Expo, Paris Nord- Villepinte or Paris-Le Bourget. They continue to invest and develop activities. Viparis will for example invest half a billion euros in the coming ten years to redo entirely the site of La Porte de Versailles by adding a new Palais des Congrès. In addition to that, we share with Unibail Rodamco another entity called Comexposium which is organizing specific events like the Paris fair.
How does the chamber accompany specific projects abroad?
Our first step is to ensure the viability of a project, and we do a diagnostics. Is the product or service reasonably protected? Are there enough human resources to support the project? Are there sufficient financial resources to support the project over time? In some cases, our duty is to tell the company “no”. Then, when the project becomes effective – in 90 percent of the cases – we establish contact with the local chamber. We have common practices due to a long history of cooperation.
We opened our office in China in 1995. In India, we opened ten years ago. In Brazil, we opened our office last year. Apart from these, we developed another presence through schools about a decade ago. We opened an electronic school in South Africa, a business school in Lebanon, which is a way for us to be present in these countries. When it comes to oil and gas, HEC has opened a campus in Qatar in cooperation with Total, which offers MBAs. It is a means for us to train locals as well as French people wanting to work in this region.
Africa is a story in itself. Despite the difficulties we all know, it will certainly become a growing market for us in the coming years. Our challenge will be to build a stronger presence in non-French speaking regions like eastern Africa.
You have had a very diverse career, going from the management of Moulin Rouge, Bon Marché to Nathan games. How do you see the coherence of it?
If I had to sum up my personal philosophy, it would be “be free and open to all fields of possibility.” This is what I tell my children as well as our students. Each time I made a change, it was due to a specific person. I consider myself as very fortunate. I am more a man of numbers, and I have spent most of my time dealing with creative people. The challenge for me has been: “how to cope with complementary people, learn from them and give them the possibility to grow?”