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Patriarch of France’s Michelin tire dynasty dies at 89

A file picture taken on October 5, 1984, shows Francois Michelin posing with the family company's iconic "Michelin Man"
A file picture taken on October 5, 1984, shows Francois Michelin posing with the family company's iconic "Michelin Man" Dominique Faget, AFP

François Michelin led the eponymous family business for almost half a century and helped establish it as one of the world’s “Big Three” tire manufacturers.

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Michelin, whose death was announced in a statement on Wednesday, was the grandson of Edouard Michelin, Michelin & Cie’s founder in 1889. The secretive family business is still based in Clermont-Ferrand, in the remote Auvergne region of central France. It owns the city’s cherished rugby club, ASM Clermont Auvergne, and also publishes the world-famous restaurant and hotel guides.

Throughout his 47 years at the company’s helm, François Michelin seldom gave interviews to the press – making an exception only for Clermont-Ferrand’s local newspaper, La Montagne. But his ambitions for the family firm reached well beyond the Auvergne’s rugged landscape.

‘One of the greatest French industrialists’

His tenure from 1955 to 2002 coincided with the tire maker’s rapid global expansion, propelled by the success of its radial tire, known as the Michelin X. “By developing the radial tire, he transformed a family and regional company into one of the biggest French groups and one of its best-known," said French President François Hollande, hailing Michelin as “one of the greatest French industrialists of the postwar years”.

In 1976, Michelin chose to withdraw from the car business by selling French automaker Citroën to its rival Peugeot. His decision to buy America’s Uniroyal Goodrich Tire in 1990 consolidated the company’s place in the industry’s “Big Three”, along with US rival Goodyear and Japan's Bridgestone.

Michelin was 75 when he stepped down, leaving his son Edouard in charge of the company. Edouard Michelin died four years later in a boating accident, aged 42. The tire maker is now run by Jean-Dominique Senard, its first boss to not be related to the Michelin family.
 

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