FRANCE--WISCONSIN

Interviews with Business Leaders

The following interviews with Wisconsin (and nearby Minnesota) business people doing business with France were done by students in Business French at the University of Wisconsin--La Crosse for Professor Barbara Rusterholtz. All interviewees have given permission for their comments to appear on the WFC web site.

LeBlanc Corporation

by Beth DeYoung

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

The Noblet firm, now known as the LeBlanc Corporation, was founded in the Norman village of LaCouture Boussey, which is now recognized as the birthplace of wind instrument manufacturing. In 1904, Denis Noblet, having no heir, granted his family business to Georges LeBlanc, the most skilled worker. Georges worked on improving the manufacturing process and was later joined by his son, Léon. Léon LeBlanc was holder of the First Prize in clarinet from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. The LeBlanc father and son team decided to create an artistic line of woodwinds because of the success of the Noblet line of student instruments. The LeBlanc line was introduced in 1921. Many technical and acoustical innovations followed and in 1946, LeBlanc Musical Instrument Company was opened in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which later expanded greatly. LeBlanc acquired two musical instrument companies. The first was the Frank Holton Company, located in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and the second was the Martin Band Instrument Company, located in Kenosha, which was acquired from the Wurlitzer Company. In April 1989, Mr. LeBlanc's American partner, Vito Pascucci, assumed management of the LeBlanc Corporation and was elected Président-Directeur General of LeBlanc S.A., the French firm. At this same time, Andris J. Kursietis was hired to deal with the relations with France.
          LeBlanc's main dealings are with France, but instruments are distributed to other French speaking areas, such as Belgium, Quebec, and Luxembourg. Mr. Kursietis said that ninety-five percent of what goes on is through him. He communicates with France daily by both telephone and fax. Mr. Kursietis travels to France four to five times a year for the duration of one to two weeks. He is accompanied by four to five others, often the president or managers. While in France, general inspection is done as well as problem solving. At the end of the year, a trip is made to France to plan and make the budget for the following year. Once every two years, LeBlanc brings general managers and production managers from France to the United States, usually to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Generally, the duration of their stay is one week to ten days.
          A majority of the communication takes place in French. According to Andris Kursietis, "Nine times out of ten, business is done in French." When he calls France, he speaks French, but when he faxes France he often does it in English because his boss likes to know what is going on. The French are not keen on writing in English. Mr. Kursietis sometimes spends all day translating. He is the only French-speaking person currently in the Wisconsin Company. There are not really any plans to expand the LeBlanc Corporation; they just want to maintain business.
          Mr. Kursietis is not in sales, so he does not deal with a lot of other countries although he does attend the music fair in Germany yearly. Mr. Kursietis said, "You have to adapt to each country's culture." He said that the Japanese are very formal, and the French are often reserved at first, but then grow warmer to you. He is on a first name basis with the French now. Mr. Kursietis also said that the French are reluctant to speak English, so he speaks French with the French. However, when dealing with other countries such as Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany, and other countries, English is the language for communicating. Because Mr. Kursietis was born and raised in England, he said he might have a different or better perspective on dealing with the Europeans. Overall, he does not have problems when dealing with the French, nor does the LeBlanc Corporation.

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AlliedSignal Laminate Systems

by Emily Hunter

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

AlliedSignal is the world's largest supplier of primary materials for printed circuitry. AlliedSignal makes the base materials for circuit boards which can then have printed circuits for computers, electronics, telecommunications, and defense industries. They also produce laminate materials from paper, glass, resin, copper, and other materials. They are based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, with branches all over the world. Their European headquarters are in London, England.
          I interviewed Rick Kinsley, the vice-president of Human Relations. He informed me that AlliedSignal does business with French-speaking countries such as France, Belgium, and Canada. He said that AlliedSignal does business with basically every developed country, because these countries need the products that they manufacture for everyday things such as telephones. Rick also stated that the La Crosse office doesn't really have anything to do directly with the business in the French speaking countries; it is with the European office that they deal on a daily basis. The European branch does about 20% of the total annual business for AlliedSignal. When the La Crosse office does deal with the French office, they communicate by means of electronic mail, faxes, telex, voice mail, conference calls, and sometimes face-to-face. They do communicate in English because many of the Europeans already speak English and very few of the people from La Crosse actually speak French. Rick said that about six people deal with the French companies. When these people travel to Europe, Alliedsignal sends a leadership team of about six people who typically spend about three weeks visiting all of the European countries. The leadership team generally visits these companies about three times annually. The Europeans generally never visit the La Crosse office; they usually meet at the European office because of its location.
          The business relationships in France are very different than they are in the United States. Rick said that the French like to develop a personal relationship with their business associates as well as a professional relationship. They like to sit down and find out about the person on an individual level, find out about their family, kids, and things one would discuss with a friend, not a business associate. The entire decision making process is different as well. It is much slower and more deliberate; they take a more bureaucratic approach to the decision making process. Rick said that the French are willing to take a long time to come to a decision, whereas in the United States decisions are made very quickly. The French let macro-economics help them in their decision-making process. They think that that is what determines good business. I have found out that the businesses in France may appear to be the same as they are here, but are actually run very differently. They are much slower and more personal in the decisions and relationships that take place during business hours. I found it very interesting to see how different they are, and Rick was very helpful in providing me with all of the necessary information.

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Trane Company

by Lea Albertson

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

The Trane Company, which today is the world's largest supplier of comfort Systems for the heating, ventilating, air conditioning and building management industry, began as a family business more than a century ago.
          Norwegian immigrant James Trane settled in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1864, finding work as a steam fitter and plumber. He and his son Reuben Trane laid the groundwork for the future that has led to new sales and opportunities worldwide.
          In 1958, Trane sought to take advantage of the opportunities provided by global operations. Trane acquired an interest in CEMAT, a French corporation located in Epinal, France. Renamed Société Trane, controlling interest in the firm was purchased by Trane in 1964, at which time a new manufacturing plant was built. Another manufacturing plant was subsequently built in nearby Charmes, France in 1973, and operations were begun in Mirecourt, France, and Colchestor, U.K., in 1991.
          Today, Epinal serves as headquarters for Trane Europe. Products manufactured in the European plants are sold primarily in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, but are also exported to other regions of the world.
          Ken Nash who works in the international marketing department of Trane Company, graciously took time out of his day to answer a few questions about his business relations with France.
          He does business with France as well as French-speaking Northern African countries such as Algeria and Tunisia. All of these operations are handled out Epinal, France. The nature of his business is the selling and distribution of air conditioning systems. He communicates directly with Epinal 2-3 times a week. When he calls, the communication is mostly done in French, whereas most of the written communication is done in English.
          Mr. Nash travels to France at least once a year. He lived in France for three years and as a result his French-speaking skills are excellent and he enjoys the opportunity to practice his skills whenever he can in business situations with French- speaking countries. He emphasized the importance of some French-speaking skills relating to his career. He also stated that his French-speaking business contacts greatly appreciate the effort made by Mr. Nash and his colleagues.
          Besides himself, several other marketing people from Trane Company travel to France, usually one week out of the year. Together they coordinate the development of sales tools and also make decisions on the pricing and selection of equipment. Depending on the health of the economy, Trane will expand or reduce its dealings with French-speaking countries. If the economy is doing well, Trane will expand its dealings and vice versa.
          Mr. Nash feels that doing business with French-speaking countries is no different than other countries. He recognizes that there are good and bad aspects when dealing with any country because every culture is different. He has encountered the same amount of difficulties and frustrations with French-speaking countries as he has with other countries. Mr. Nash seems to enjoy his position at Trane Company and his business dealings with French-speaking countries. Trane Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin is an excellent example of Wisconsin's French business connections.

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DMV USA

by Sarah Kohlmeyer

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

As we move from a world of many individual countries and economies into a global economy, people from around the world must be able to communicate with others of a different culture and language. Openness into international communication will lead to an openness in the international markets and economy. This paper will discuss how one firm communicates with customers of a different language or culture; specifically, a French culture.
          DMV USA is a subsidiary of DMV International. This firm, which is headquartered in the Netherlands, has production facilities in La Crosse, Wisconsin. DMV produces dairy powders and supplements that are used in the production of dairy goods. The La Crosse location currently sells its product domestically in the United States and also in the international markets of Latin America and Canada. The focus of this paper will be on DMV USA's communications with its French speaking consumers in Canada.
          According to Baron Vogelsberg who is an international sales representative, DMV USA's contact with its Canadian customers is very limited. Business that is conducted with customers usually entails a phone conversation or a fax. These conversations usually revolve around the dairy industry or DMV's product line. Another interesting topic that is discussed is the separation of French Canadian from the rest of Canada. It seems that this desire for division between the English and the French providence in Canada may be affecting the business world. Since communication is limited, DMV USA conducts business with its Canadian consumers in English. The company reasons that because Canada is multi- lingual and is the only French-speaking country in which it conducts business now or in the near future, the need to use French or to hire personnel with a French background is not strong. Vogelsberg agrees that having this type of person on staff may be useful but overall, not cost effective.
          Since DMV USA does not have the personnel required to effectively maintain the daily relationship with the Canadian consumers, the company uses a broker service to maintain the daily contacts with Canada. A broker is hired to handle the sales and distribution of its customers' products. These brokers place the product in the market, handle the exporting procedure and documents, and act as the contact between the business and its consumer. An effective broker knows the product that it is selling and the market in which it is selling the product. By using a broker, DMV USA has eliminated any need for someone with a background in French or in Canadian culture.. The only difficulty that Mr Vogelsberg has encountered in his dealings with French-Canadians is an "elitism". He has, in fact, encountered French-Canadians who refuse to speak English although they are very fluent in the language. However, the Canadian refusal to speak may be based upon the idea that if a company wishes to conduct business in a foreign country, it should have extensive knowledge of the culture and language. He did state, however, that this is somewhat of a generalization. He made it clear that not all French-Canadians are like this, but it is a problem that may be encountered when conducting business with a French-speaking person in Canada.
          The overall feeling from DMV USA was that business conducted with French- Canadians is not much different from the domestic market because of the close proximity of the two cultures and regions and the bilingual structure of the national languages. Perhaps this is why Canada, both the French-Canadian and the British- Canadian regions, is the United States's largest trading partner.

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Lucas Body Systems Winona, Minnesota

by Lawrence Sena

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

For my research project I interviewed Robert A. Wilke, who works for Lucas Body Systems in Winona, Minnesota. Mr. Wilke was very helpful to me in this project, and was glad to give me all the information that I needed. I am very grateful to Mr. Wilke for his time and cooperation. Lucas Body Systems is a subsidiary of LucasVarity Inc., which was formed by the merger of Lucas Industries and Varity Corporation in September, 1996. This research project will first give an overview of LucasVarity Inc., its main headquarters around the world, and its impressive range of products. Then Lucas Body Systems and its products will be overviewed, followed by an account of my interview with Mr. Wilke, which addresses the nature of Lucas Body System's relationship with French businesses.

LucasVarity lnc
          LucasVarity is one of the top ten automotive components suppliers in the world, a leading global aerospace supplier, and one of the world's foremost diesel engine producers. Its world headquarters is located in London, England, and its North American headquarters is located in Buffalo, New York. It also has two Asian headquarters, which are located in Tokyo and in Hong Kong. LucasVarity has manufacturing locations on every continent, with participating countries ranging from Australia to the United Kingdom and from the U.S. to Singapore. Its line of products include aerospace technology, light and heavy vehicle braking systems, diesel engines and systems, electrical and electronic systems, and after-market operations. As far as French participation is concerned, LucasVarity has manufacturing locations in France, and its French customers include the French Government (aerospace technology), and Peugeot/Citroen-Talbot and Renault (vehicle components and diesel engines and systems).

Lucas Body Systems
          Lucas Body Systems has existed for over one hundred years and has always been a leader in automotive controls and systems. Its range of products and services is impressive, and is listed below:

  • Machine building
  • Automotive modular panel controls
  • A/C and heater system actuators
  • Vehicular heating and air conditioning panel controls
  • Steering column controls
  • Transmission switch sensors
  • Display and information systems
  • Security systems
  • Electronic modules
  • Rain sensors
  • Contract manufacturing

Lucas Body Systems and its relationship with French Businesses
          Lucas Body Systems' plant in Winona, Minnesota specializes in manufacturing automotive climate control technologies, and its main French customers are Chrysler (in Canada and in Detroit) and the French company Valeo. According to Mr. Wilke, communication with their French customers is on a weekly if not daily basis. Representatives from Lucas Body Systems travel to Canada and Detroit several times a year, and they receive annual visits from French representatives of Valeo. Usually the visits last one or two days, and they involve high-level meetings in which they discuss joint operating agreements and engineering projects.
          As far as the use of the French language is concerned, all communication during these meetings is done in English, and no one from Lucas is currently fluent in French. According to Mr. Wilke, all of the French representatives with whom they work speak English, even when their meetings are held in France. At this time, although Lucas Body Systems has no immediate plans to add any more French businesses as customers, its production and sales are growing and it is very happy with its relationships with French businesses.

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L.B.White Company

by Nikki Buntrock

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

L.B. White Company is based in Onalaska, Wisconsin. It was started in 1952 by a man named Lyle White. Today, the business is conducted internationally in France, Germany, England, Mexico, Canada, and a few other countries. They are leading United States manufacturers and marketers of heating equipment. One year ago, L.B. White had no international business, and today, France is the most important market for its products. Their main focus is on heaters for poultry and swine facilities, and the poultry industry in France is the largest in Europe. Some of their products are used for agricultural purposes such as heating chicken- or swine-raising facilities. They are also used for heating unfinished buildings that are under construction.
          Curt Sturm is the International Sales Manager, and is the only one in the company who speaks foreign languages Spanish as well as French. He spends about 35-40% of his time traveling to countries where these languages are spoken, overseeing the current business, and seeking new business. About four to five weeks a year are spent in France. The French have not yet visited the United States, but visits are expected in the near future. Visits are also made to Quebec, Canada to deal with another division of the company, called PSI. Since neither of the directors of that branch speak French, dealings with Canada are conducted in English. As well as traveling abroad, communication is done by faxes and by telephone. Most all of the business is conducted in French, so that the customers can understand the technical details. Time zones sometimes pose a problem. Curt explained that when a French business asks him to call tomorrow morning, it will mean he's awake from one o'clock until about three o'clock on the phone with a country half-way around the world. A typical conversation would deal with business subjects such as pricing, distribution, market trends, promotion or safety. One advantage of having a bilingual international sales manager and not all companies do is that the companies with big orders will sometimes go directly to that person instead of dealing with a distributor. This helps keeps costs down, which any consumer likes.
          L.B. White's future plans are only to expand. They have no problems when dealing with France or any other country, other than the normal challenge of satisfying mutual business interests, and feel that it has overall been a very pleasant experience.

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Firstlogic Postalsoft

by Michelle Bourque

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

Firstlogic Postalsoft was founded in 1983 by Douglas Schmidt who was recently named in 1997 as Wisconsin's High Tech Entrepreneur of the year by Ernst and Young. Postalsoft, renamed Firstlogic to reflect the diverse market the company serves, develops software that keeps track of names and addresses of a company's customers. "The company's products help thousands of businesses around the world take better advantage of greater postage discounts with flexible and efficient software." Firstlogic employs 330 people and supports branch offices in 16 metropolitan areas across the country.
          With headquarters in La Crosse, besides the U.S, Firstlogic does business in Canada primarily but also is beginning to discover a market in France. Currently, Firstlogic provides two major products in their business with Canada. The first is called Address Correction and Encoding Canada and the second is called Presort Canada. Their business with France is still limited but they are working on a partnership agreement with a large French company called Alcatel. Firstlogic is pursuing future government contract work with Alcatel both in the U.S and abroad.
          The company communicates by telephone, mail, e-mail, fax, and also in person. They say communication takes place with some of their Canadian customers almost daily and with Alcatel in France weekly. As for travel, once every month or two somebody has to travel to Canada and once every couple of months to France for an average of 2-5 days. However, the visits from their Canadian and French customers are less frequent. Discussions involve products primarily but also strategic ways to win highly lucrative government contracts. All communication so far has been in English. They do have employees who speak French, but communication in French has not been necessary. However in the future, if they want to pursue selling products into France or expanding Canadian sales through direct sales in Quebec, they will need personnel who are fluent in French. Amy Meyer explains that they will likely increase their dealings with French speaking countries as they expand their international product offerings. Increasing Firstlogic's business in Canada is definitely a goal for 1998.
          So far, because of their limited exposure, they haven't encountered any particular challenges in their dealings with French companies. Meyer has noticed that business people outside the U.S are often multi-lingual, and she feels that Americans aren't as well prepared for international business as their international counterparts. As the company begins to target some of these non-English-speaking countries directly, they feel they will have to deal with their distributors in their own language.

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Interview with a retired Human Resources Director

by Ann Marie Sindelar

University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

I spoke with a retired Human Resources Director from a Wisconsin company that does business with France. Since he no longer works for the company, he asked that his remarks not be associated with the company's name.
          During his career, this Human Resources Director was personally involved in business dealings with Australia, Scotland, Brazil, Canada and France. When dealing with French-speaking countries, the communication was almost always done in English. Even when in France, the communication took place in English since the French CEO spoke English very well. When communicating with the personnel managers in France, one of them spoke English quite fluently. However, the second spoke no English and the American personnel manager spoke no French. For such situations, and for the translation of documents, the company would hire translators.
          The CEO of the French company comes to La Crosse about three or four times a year. Someone from the La Crosse organization probably travels to France about once a month. Communication is primarily by telephone and fax, and he suspects that today the Internet is often used.
          With this company, a top executive from Wisconsin could be given an three- to five-year assignment in France. Generally these sojourners learned the language if they didn't already know it.
          There are many reasons why a United States human resources director would travel to France: hot labor disputes, pending strikes and negotiations with national trade unions. These negotiations are sometimes foreign to the United States executives because of the difference between U.S. and French labor unions. For example, workers at the U.S. facility belong to the I.A.M. International Association of Machinists. However, in France, the unions are political organizations. Each month, a "works council" met with all the unions represented at the French company. The interviewee recalled the Confédération Générale du Travail a communist union , a socialist union, a Catholic union and a white collar/clerical union all being present at these meetings.
          Business meetings in France were more formal than in the United States. For example, everyone would shake hands and greet each other every morning to start the meetings in France. The French also dressed more formally.
          Other differences involved overtime working hours, the length of lunch hours, and holidays. Overtime hours were not flexible in France, and advance notice was necessary. There were also prohibitions on overtime hours. The length of the lunch hour was prescribed by law an hour and fifteen minutes. A hot lunch had to be provided, and red or white wine had to be served. In the U.S., a worker's lunch hour averaged eighteen minutes. In France, everyone was given five weeks of vacation by law. In the U.S., it might take someone twenty-five years to earn five weeks of vacation. The French five-week vacation used to be taken practically nationwide during the month of August, causing a virtual nationwide shutdown, he recalled. Now, these weeks of "holiday" are more apt to be spread throughout the year.
          We concluded our discussion with talks of the future. With the world becoming more and more a global market, he believes that American companies need more workers who are fluent in a second language. There is a prevailing notion that "everyone knows (or should know) English." But in fact, communication should be possible in the languages of all the participating companies. We should cease trying to "cram others into our molds."

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Document added 4/29/98

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