Francois Michelin dies aged 88: 6 things about the man behind the famous tyre company

Mr Francois Michelin, who led France's famed tyre company Michelin for nearly half a century, died at the age of 88, the group said on April 29.

Mr Michelin was born on June 15, 1926 in Clermont-Ferrand, in the Auvergne region of central France, the city where the tyre company has been based since its start.

Here are 6 things about the man who helped transform Michelin into one of the world's top three tyre manufacturers alongside Bridgestone and Goodyear.

1. He was a private man

Francois Michelin only gave interviews to Clermont-Ferrand's local newspaper and never chaired the company's annual general meeting during his time as chief executive. He was famous for a discretion that earned him the title of "France's most secretive boss" by the national press - the company did not even have a communications department until after he retired in 2002.

2. He was not the chief executive of the company from the start

He went to work at the company in 1951, initially under an assumed name as a fitter in a machine shop, allowing him to learn without attracting attention. He also worked as a driver shuttling between the company's plants, and in sales and marketing, before taking the job of co-managing partner in 1955, and then the chief executive four years later.

3. He did not believe in ostentatious wealth

Jean-Dominique Senard, Michelin's current chairman and Mr Michelin's grandson said that that his grandfather told him two things that have stayed with him. "Truth and reality are bigger than you, and money should be a servant, never a master," Mr Senard told news site Paris Match in 2013.

"When I saw how my grandfather lived, I understood that money is very useful but if we aren't careful, it can become a drug," he said.

4. Mr Michelin handed the reins to his son, but it did not last long

Mr Michelin dedicated his life to the company. He headed it for 47 years, when he handed over the reins to his son Edouard. They led the company together from 1999 to 2002 and then Edouard headed it on his own from 2002 until his death at age 42 in a boating accident in 2006.

5. He lived in a home before his death

In later years, Mr Michelin lived in EHPAD Ma Maison, a retirement home managed by Petites Soeurs des Pauvres, a Catholic religious institute for women.

6. He is the grandson of the man behind the Michelin guide

Mr Michelin's grandfather was Mr Edouard Michelin, one of the co-founders of the Michelin guide in 1900. The guide, which now rates fine-dining restaurants round the world, and is regarded internationally as the mark of a fabulous restaurant, was started for a practical reason. The guide was initially free and included information on petrol stations across France, where to get cars repaired, where to find supplies and parts, and also where to find toilets, meals and accommodation along the way. The guide was meant to get people with cars to drive more, so that they would need to replace their tyres more often.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg

Sources: The New York Times, Bloomberg, AFP, ViaMichelin