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I recently spoke with Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight, who has joined a special committee launched by French President Nicholas Sarkozy to discuss issues facing international companies with a presence in France.
Quiksilver generates 10% of its $1.8 billion annual revenue in the country and has operated there for decades. The company employs 500 people, and owns 114 stores throughout France.
Bob said he decided to attend the meeting after learning that only 15 company leaders had been invited. He also wanted to participate because the French government has helped Quiksilver in past, including with union issues during the Rossignol years and the government spoke in Quiksilver’s favor during the company’s financial crisis a few years ago.
The first part of the meeting was with French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who spoke about what France is doing to encourage foreign investment using tax breaks and other means.
The second part of the day was at the Presidential Palace, called the Elysee Palace. The group met with French President Nicholas Sarkozy for several hours.
Government officials wanted to know why the companies do business in France and if the government is helping enough.
Bob shared how the French landscape – with mountains and the ocean – fits the Quiksilver DNA. Other reasons why Quiksilver likes operating in France is the beauty and warm nature of the community of Biarritz, how the banks have supported the company, the convenience of the major airports, the magic of Paris, the educated workforce and the government incentives.
Sarkozy also gave a speech about foreign investment in France and a lot of other hot button issues of the day including Libya, Egypt, pollution, a global currency, the Muslim influence in Europe, and much more.
Bob was impressed that Sarkozy was so articulate on such a wide range of subjects and willing to speak his mind.
“I was awestruck,” Bob said. “He was so smart, so articulate, so endearing.”
It was also refreshing because the meeting was not a big media show for Sarkozy but a quality discussion, he said.
The council, officially called the “Strategic Attractiveness Council,” will meet about two times a year.
Other companies represented at the meeting include IKEA (Sweden), Sabanci (Turkey), Embraer S.A. (Brazil), Abertis (Spain) and Bertelsmann AG (Germany).