Sep 22, 2009
Your Excellencies, Your Eminences,
Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends, good evening.
When Rabbi Arthur Schneier called me several weeks ago to announce that the Appeal of Conscience Foundation wished to honor me, I was obviously moved and happy to be the recipient of this award-- given for the first time in 1965-- because I know and respect the work you, the trustees, do.
My friend, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and I, throughout our lives, have met a number of personalities, government leaders, figures in the field of economics, players in the world of NGOs. He, the man of spirituality, of religion, of meditation, and I, more oriented towards the development of the economy and industry, have traveled across the world's continents. That has forged our view of things. What does he see? A world that can only thrive if it is sustained by the spirit of progress and the thirst for peace; a universe which will not be able to survive without the spread of liberty, the willingness to talk, or the spirit of tolerance. In the course of our journeys, in Asia, in America, or in Europe, we have known both ordinary people and exceptional beings.
We have traveled separate paths, but have shared the same conclusion. What should bring men together is far stronger than the perception they may have, which is an illusion that separates them. We didn't know each other before. But, this conviction has brought us closer. Progressively, these discussions, these experiences, have provided subject matter for our own conversations and we have become regular correspondents. We have gotten into the habit of confronting our impressions, our judgments, our worries, but also our hopes.
In Paris, in my office on Avenue Montaigne, or in this extraordinary, audacious and vertical city where we meet this evening and which has been led at City Hall by Mayor Bloomberg who, today, is the heir to Thomas Willet, elected in 1665 and David Matthews, elected in 1776, stealing an hour or two from the daily hustle and bustle, we have taken the time to exchange views, to talk, to be objective. This has probably given me greater serenity. I don't know, dear Arthur Schneier, if I have succeeded in getting you to share my passion for creation. Be that as it may, I have appreciated our long discussions:
• on the future of China; yesterday the Middle Kingdom was cut off from the outside world; today it is a center of growth and civilization, tomorrow, facing the United States, one of the Pacific Ocean's shores made into a sort of Mediterranean sea from which Europe does not want to be kept away;
• on the psychology of Vladimir Putin and his very particular relationship with Dimitry Medvedev, which will be one of the keys, after the Cold War, to the essential harmony and understanding between the West and the East which is rebuilding;
• on the evolution of Christianity, from a Polish Pope to a German Pontiff, whose native language you share;
• on the absolute necessity for peace in the Near East so that after centuries of wandering and suffering, the children of Israel, the people of the Book, towards whom mankind – blackened by the shame of the Holocaust – maintains a debt, which will never be extinguished, live in a state with secure, recognized and durably-guaranteed borders, without leaving by the wayside the Palestinian issue on which all need to work toward finding a solution.
• on the future of Iran, of Iraq, of Afghanistan and the mountain valleys where our soldiers, like the British soldiers, fight alongside yours and pay the price of blood so that the fanatics do not find a pretext for another more devastating and even more deadly war.
You experienced September 11 in the flesh. It is a wound that those who are true friends of the United States, this immense democracy, still feel. Yet, my friend Hubert Védrine, who for a long time was France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and who, like Felix Rohatyn, a talented representative of your country in Paris, is a member of the board of LVMH, often reminds me that it is, alas, with hawks that one must find compromises more than with doves. Maybe that’s the solution. That’s certainly a challenge.
Last year I was here, among you, at the invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy, recipient of the 2008 Appeal of Conscience World Statesman Award. I don't need to tell you how pleasurable it is for a French citizen to follow in such a lineage. Today I find myself honored alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is confronted with managing a particularly formidable crisis. He will allow me to recall, in thanking him, that as Chancellor of the Exchequer he proposed, and I accepted with pleasure, to be a member of the International Business Council that he set up to advise him.
So too it is Muhtar Kent whose father, Necdet Kent, was, I recall, Vice-Consul for Turkey in Marseilles during the war, a just man among the just who saved so many innocent lives from Nazi barbarism, who tonight receives the award for an American entrepreneur. Between Coca-Cola and our luxury brands, there are many differences, apart from the champagne bubbles. Nevertheless, our businesses, one like the other, each in its place, show the exposure a brand brings when it becomes universal, when all mankind knows it and wants it.
Beyond me as an individual, you, dear Arthur Schneier, with your board have decided to pay homage to LVMH, which is the world leader in the luxury goods sector. Its distinction is that in Europe, in terms of revenue and balance of trade, it is equivalent to other more frequently cited industries such as chemicals, arms, aeronautics, and nuclear energy. It is a sector that cannot be relocated, which creates employment in the heart of capital cities, and sometimes in depressed labor markets and which, as a paradox of globalization, produces in Europe and in euros to sell notably in Asia, in yen or in renminbi.
Luxury is the opposite of anonymity and standardization. Behind each brand, behind each of the tens of thousands of new references that we put at the disposal of our clients each year, there is always that alchemy, synonym of success and which makes a legend: a place, a date, a man. Avenue Montaigne, 1947, Christian Dior, the three are linked and nothing in this trilogy can be neglected. It is in this way that luxury forged its history. Present in Athens when political ideas were born, in Rome contemporary to the concept of civilization, blooming from the Italian Renaissance to the industrial revolution, springing up in all great cultures: in Beijing, in Jaipur, in Saint Petersburg, in Tokyo, on the corner of 5th Avenue! It is an art de vivre, a way of existing, a refinement. It is at the source of a particular atmosphere which contributes to the development of our towns, our major cities and helps to liven up our urban districts and enchants Omotesando, Bond Street, the Champs Elysées, or Madison Avenue.
Our brands, which were very often born in Europe, testify to the richness and the ancientness of arts and crafts, which developed under the shelter of the European courts. Inspirers and patrons without really knowing it, laid down the foundations of a taste, which would become universal.
What, today, is commonly called luxury, an expression of an immemorial and intangible art de vivre, can be even more. For, in a certain way, between the Appeal of Conscience’s objectives and the values of the LVMH Group, there are many bridges. Our employees, our shareholders, our clients are of all origins, nationalities and faiths. The LVMH Group’s 80,000 employees present in more than a hundred countries around the globe from Ulan Bator to Soho, going through Istanbul and London, are indeed the representatives of a corporate citizen, which asserts its total neutrality in the face of the diversity of origins and identities, which advocates parity of responsibilities between men and women, which practices the French form of non-secularism, which is respectful of the opinions and beliefs of all. Raymond Aron, that great French intellectual who appreciated the spirit of liberty and individual responsibility which are the backbone of your country’s guiding principles, predicted in his time that trade relations, the development of economies, the aspirations of consumers, more than fighting and clashes, would lead to the dissemination of ideas, and that it would bring about a better comprehension between men, to the dissolution of iron curtains. In this way citadels collapsed. The truth came from your great democracy. I know that because I’ve lived in your country-- several years ago-- and my daughter and my eldest son, who are with me tonight, were educated in your schools.
Three points to conclude: The first concerns the economic crisis. In my opinion, it is a crisis of finance and trust. It is not a crisis of competence and intelligence. If industry and finance come back to these fundamentals, which I believe are at the source of LVMH’s success, we’ll pull through it. The second concerns the client. Out of this earthquake, which has shaken employment and growth, will inevitably come another type of consumption, which will be more demanding, caring about authenticity and creativity, desiring the best and the most gratifying, wanting to reach the highest level, leaving each person as master of his or her sensations, free to choose one’s fancies. This analysis model, which will determine our purchases, will be particularly exclusive. It will work as a filter. In the luxury sector only those companies which have integrity and authenticity, who develop products which blend art and craftsmanship, and which offer the sublime or the unique, will endure. Anything that is average, anything that is mediocre, anything that is artificial will disappear. LVMH, which puts creative passion at its heart, will undoubtedly be strengthened.
A third point to conclude: the climate. Whatever the cause of the problems that affect the planet: global warming, water scarcity, the end of biodiversity, their impact must change our behavior. Wines and spirits, fashion and leather goods, perfumes and cosmetics, watches and jewelry, selective retailing; each of our business groups has made it imperative for us to respond to the demands of sustainable development, through our techniques and our processes, through our choice of raw materials and transportation, through our role of corporate sponsor and our code of ethics. When the United Nations General Assembly turns its attention tomorrow, to addressing the global issues of the 21st century, whether they concern the economy, ecology or democracy, I hope they follow, as I do, the motto of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the insightful French author and pilot who died at the controls of his airplane during the Second World War, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
In expressing my gratitude once more, I thank you for your attention.