American corporations in France (#4)
 Facts and figures about American firms in France    Doing business in France
  •  US firms in France represent more than 1,000 employers and around 600,000 jobs (the numbers for French firms in the US are about the same).

  • The 10 largest US firms are : IBM (20,000 employees), Ford, McDonald's, Brink's, Eurodisney, Coca Cola (10,000 employees), Leroy-Somer, Otis, American Power Conversion, Delphi, etc...

  • The 10 oldest (more than a century old and and still existing) US firms in France are Haviland Porcelain (1842), Lazard Frères (1852), Singer Sewing Machines (1855 but no longer American), JP.Morgan (1862), Westinghouse (1879), Otis (1884), International Herald Tribune-now International New York Times (1887), American Express (1895), International Harvester (1893), Exxon (1902).

  • The USA is the largest investor in France (see figures) and Franco-American economic relations have never been harmed by the (many) political squabbles in their relationship. Why ? According to all surveys, they appreciate France for :

    • Skilled manpower
    • Good educational and research levels
    • Excellent infrastructures
    • Central location in Europe
    • Quality of life
  • The first American company in France is probably the Banque Welles (founded in 1816 by Col. Samuel Welles, from Boston, the bank went bankrupted in 1841).
  • The first US industrial firm in France is the porcelain maker Haviland, founded in 1842. A porcelain dealer in New York, David Haviland could not obtain from the porcelain makers in Limoges what he wanted for the US market : he moved to France and his family still runs the factory!

    Porcelaine Haviland (Limoges)
  • More to come
  Practically speaking :
  • A French meeting is not aimed at making a decision : it is often an exchange of information
    • Often disorganized (chairperson? schedule? aim? minutes?)
    • What does the boss think ?
    • Don't expect a consensus : no win-win...
    • Don't worry if they quarrel : they love it!
  • A talk with a French colleague or boss :
    • Less blunt : understand the "non-dit"
  • A French memo :
    • Much shorter, less precise, less facts
    • More ideas and concepts
  • A French procedure :
    • Pure guidelines, always negotiable...
    • Lack of discipline and more creativity
 A bit of history...    American business organizations

The five periods of American firms in France...

In my PhD dissertation, I studied American firms in France from 1890 to 1990, from the archives of the American Chamber of Commerce in France (AmCham). This source provides the elements of an analysis of the collective actions they implemented and the influence they had on French firms over five successive periods where there was more or less a consistency between their actions and the decisions of the US government.

  • In the first period (1890-1914), AmCham was a club of wealthy businessmen in a prestigious environment, trying to become members of the dominant class.

  • In the second one (1914-1945), it was an employers association, with more members but in a context of wars and crisis, without a common strategy, subject to the inconsistencies of the US government's policies.

  • In the third one (1945-1970), it was an efficient instrument of the Marshall Plan and later the " American challenge", a sort of very successful headquarters.

  • In the fourth one (1970-1990), with a growing number of firms, with the European project gaining ground, US policy’s reluctance to FDI and US firms becoming more and more "frenchized", significant factors of fragility appeared.

  • Finally in the fifth period (after 1990), AmCham, whose influence has diminished, is trying painfully to identify new elements of solidarity between its members in the new context of globalization.

From this source, the study focuses on cultural interactions between AmCham and its environment and the spread of the American management model, which led to a large "frenchization" of American firms in France. (this is a brief summary from : "The American Chamber of Commerce in France and American Firms in France (1890-1990) : Harmony and Dissonance", my PhD Dissertation in History, University of Paris4-Sorbonne, 2013). Read my diary of an old student.

American firms in Europe and WW2

  • Most Americans are extremely critical of the French during the German Occupation (and they are right) and most of them think that it is a shame that French businessmen accepted to work for the Germans during these four years (1940-1944). In certain cases, this point has been used to exclude major French firms from US calls for bids (see SNCF). Think a minute : if you are a businessman in a terribly difficult period, when the most common inputs are lacking (energy, paper, metals, workforce, etc..) and you have to protect your investment and your employees' jobs, you have to be a hero to say :"I'll try to save my company, but never shall I work for anything German". No surprise that most French companies worked for whoever needed them. Most Americans blame it, of course, on moral grounds but do they know that this is exactly what ALL American companies in Europe did, as much as they could and some of them expanded their business considerably (IBM, Ford, ITT, Chase Bank, JP.Morgan, …) all over occupied Europe. In fact, US corporations behaved exactly like their French colleagues and tried to survive…

  • To know more, read : BLACK Edwin, IBM and the Holocaust : the strategic alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s most powerful corporation, Crown, New York, 2001, SUTTON Antony C., Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler, New Rochelle NY, Arlington Publishers, 1976, HIGHAM, Charles, Trading with the Enemy: the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1995, 277 p., etc…..

  • The American Chamber of Commerce in France (AmCham) was the first American Chamber of Commerce to be founded in a Foreign country. It is the voice of American business in France, dedicated to the optimization of US investments and the promotion of transatlantic business ties. It is, by far, the best source of information about American business in France.

  • The French government has a specific organization : Business France Agency

  • The French-American Foundation (FAF) is very active in the development of transatlantic ties, with many events and its progam Young Leaders.

  • Philippe Rochefort, the webmaster of this site, is the de-facto historian of AmCham ; he wrote a Ph.D in Contemporary History about the history of American firms in France (see about his PhD dissertation read his Diary of an Old Student) ; he writes little historical anecdotes on the AmCham site about the life of this organization and gives speeches about the history of American firms in France.

  • More to come


American business and some French traditions...

  • A terrible image : the French political life and labor traditions have everything to horrify American investors : official statements against profit, high taxes and constant changes in tax laws, huge strikes and "bossnapping", etc.

  • A real impact : from 2012, the Socialist government of François Hollande did everything foreign investors hate (higher taxes, abrupt declarations, etc.). The results were immediate : while IDE (International Direct Investment) grew worldwide in 2013 and particularly in Europe (+37,7%), it collapsed in France (-77%) (Source : CNUCED 2014) and the positive opinion about France of US headquarters decreased from 56% to 13% (Source : AmCham Barometer 2013)

  • A better image : since the election of the president Macron in 2017 with the reform program he started implementing, the image of France for foreign businessmen has improved significantly.
  • More to come

DID YOU KNOW THAT....? The oldest company in France is La Monnaie de Paris (the French mint), founded in June 864 by King Charles II, eleven and a half centuries ago! In 2013, the turnover was a mere $200 m., a big drop after the end of the national currency, but it is still profitable with :minting contracts for other countries and creating various medals.

Do you know what is "an American firm" ?

The answer seems obvious, but it is not. Definitely! And the question does not mean much :

  • a firm with American shareholders ? Franchised firms have no US shareholders but some of them are "typically" American (McDonald's), others less so ; on the other hand many US funds do not give any "American" flavour to the firms they invest in
  • a firm with American managers ? Most "typically" US firms (GE, Pfizer, Coca Cola, ex) have zero US executive
  • a firm legally established in the US and not in France? All subsidiaries must be legally established in France.
  • a firm where decisions are made in the US ? How do you establish that ?

The best definition could be : an American firm is a firm generally considered as American !

To related pages : American Community (#1) in Paris, intercultural differences, workingin France, etc...

To table of contents

To top of the page

Back to home page

Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

Philippe Rochefort gives

P-to-P training sessions

for executives newly assigned to France


 To email me
If you like this site, please bookmark it or create a link!

 More details...