Paris Embracing (or Deporting?) Foreign Investors
The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) hosted a “Soirée de l’Investissement International à Paris” last Thursday night by invitation only honoring international companies with a presentation by several key members of the Paris Developpement Agency and then pouring flutes of champagne to ‘pat themselves on the backs.’ There were approximately 600 or more seats filled with grey-suited men and women, mostly of Asian origin…although that’s not surprising. Brochures were distributed extolling all the virtues of Paris as “a city that is constantly reinventing itself” and why Paris is “one of the cheapest cities for companies.”
The key speakers were led by Christian Sautter, Deputy to the Mayor in charge of “l’emploi, du développement économique et de l’attractivité internationale” — employment, economic development and international attractiveness. The illustrious group on the platform included Bridget O’Rourke, Director of the Parsons New School for Design; Nhay Phan, Director of the Bank of China; Kumar Kumaranarayanan, Director of France Tata Consultancy Services and Philippe Weyland, Director of Motel One Group.
They spoke in both English and French and they each told something about their companies and of their positive experiences working with Paris Developpement and with the city of Paris as a great environment in which to do business internationally. This is the city’s agency designed to attract foreign companies to invest in Paris. They claim to “provide specific practical solutions designed for international managers through a community of experts accustomed to foreign interfaces. The agency takes action together with Paris City Hall, and the Invest In France and Paris Region agencies.”
All this is honorable and positive and surely they really mean it. As you know, the city has set up several “incubators” including their newest “Welcome City Lab” for the tourism industry and plans by 2014 to have more than 100,000 square meters of space devoted to hosting start-ups in Paris. The economic growth of Paris depends largely on these outside resources creating new jobs and opportunities for their youth.
But it’s an uphill battle…not because the city isn’t capable of welcoming new ideas and new talent (and let me clarify that this is solely my opinion), but because not only is the bureaucracy heavy and cumbersome, but because culturally, money is still a dirty word. Making money, getting rich and all that goes along with prosperity is frowned upon in such a socialist-based culture. This is evident by the newly imposed increase in taxes on the wealthy by the Hollande administration as well as the scandals surrounding him involving his own ministers caught with illegal offshore accounts!
The French want to ‘have their cake and eat it, too.’ N’est-ce pas? Culturally they are torn between the comfort of a secure life with all the social safety nets and the prosperity that comes with the risks of free enterprise. It’s like a monster with two heads never knowing in which direction to run…for shelter or to the open fields.
Just last weekend I received a call from an old American friend and colleague visiting Paris from Tel Aviv who once lived here for several years and owned a business as a “foreign-owned company.” You may remember her and the business: “Mon Bon Chien” — a gourmet pet bakery and grooming salon in the 15th arrondissement, the brainchild of Harriet Sternstein, known by her friends as “Hat.”
Parler Paris wrote about her often as her quest to realize her innovative business idea all started with attending the first Living and Investing in France Conference we hosted in May of 2002. We all encouraged her to forge ahead with her original idea and in 2005, after much difficulty, the bakery was opened. Five years later in 2010, police arrived and handed her a 30-day notice to close the business and leave France — she’s the only person I know to have been legally deported.
Hat set out to do everything ‘by the books.’ She had professional and legal assistance and did everything she thought she was supposed to do. Her visa to stay in France was directly connected to her license to operate the business. She invested all of her life savings plus borrowed money to keep the business alive totaling over a quarter of a million dollars. The business thrived and survived like most newly-formed enterprises with ups and downs while gaining enormous publicity among the American community at large as well as within the French press.
Then one “fonctionnaire” (civil servant) decided he didn’t like Hat and her original idea, putting a ‘black mark’ on her file. That started a year of what she calls “hell.” Foreign companies have to prove their ‘worthiness’ to have their licenses renewed. “Worthiness” means showing enough profit so that there is no question that the company can meet its social security and tax obligations. It doesn’t matter that capital is invested by the owner or investors or that the tax obligations are being met.
All that was true for Mon Bon Chien, but this one individual set out to destroy her and the business. Of course, a fonctionnaire who earns a small salary in a system that doesn’t encourage his own independence is never going to look kindly on someone that does have that entrepreneurial spirit, resources and drive to be bold and try something new. Jealous? Perhaps.
Expensive attorneys were hired to defend her and over 800 signatures were acquired on a petition to save the company, yet, nothing seemed to matter. Hat was forced to leave France, having lost seven years of her life’s work and ambitions and all of her finances. Broke and thoroughly dejected, she moved to Israel and stayed with her cousins between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv until she could get back on her feet.
In August of 2011, Hat and I reconnected in Tel Aviv while visiting for my oldest New Orleans friend’s son’s wedding. She was looking for work, of course. At the same time, my friend’s oldest child, a daughter in her early thirties, was in the process of opening her own business — an American-style bakery and café. It was like the proverbial light bulb shining bright over our heads: Baker — Bakery, Baker — Bakery. Hat was looking for a job and Talya Rasner was looking for a baker.
That was the beginning of Tel Aviv’s hottest new food sensation! It took one year to realize “NOLA” (named after New Orleans, LA) with Talya at the helm and Hat in the kitchen. Since that momentous occasion, the business took off like wildfire and the publicity has been non-stop!
Hat talked excitedly about the baked goods — the Buttermilk Biscuits, the Rich Gooey Brownies, the Blueberry Muffins, the New York Cheesecake, the handmade Bagels, the Mississippi Mud Pie, the Doberge Cake (a New Orleans specialty) and Grandma Nat’s recipes for Chocolate Chip Cookies and other goodies (that I grew up knowing). She had my mouth watering! Plus, they serve American-style breakfasts and lunches of pancakes, Po-boys, grilled cheese sandwiches and salads.
Meanwhile, just when the bakery got off the ground, Hat suffered a deadly spider bite that only three in one million survive. One doctor told her she would die within the hour of her admittance to the hospital. But, she’s a survivor — she survived France and she survived the spider bite.
Hat says that she was embraced by Israel within 48 hours of her arrival. She was further embraced by Talya and her entire family who she now thinks of as her own. When asked about what it’s like to manage the Israeli bureaucracy in comparison to what she experienced in France, she quoted Talya’s father, Kobi Rasner: “The only laws we have were written on tablets…” — meaning anything goes! And go it has!
Now, if we could just get France to ’embrace’ us foreign entrepreneurs with the same true gusto…then maybe the Paris Developpement Agency wouldn’t have such an uphill battle and they’d be ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ without guilt of ‘dirty money.’
So, next time you or your friends are in Tel Aviv, be sure to visit NOLA American Bakery at 197 Dizengoff, Tel Aviv, Israel, open everyday until 10 p.m. except Friday until 4 p.m., phone +972 3-523-0527, and be sure to tell Talya and Hat that “Adrian sent you!”
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
P.S. You are invited to attend the launch of the new book Shades of the Other Shore, no. 20 in the Cahiers Series, by writer Jeffrey Greene and artist Ralph Petty on Thursday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m. held at The Grand Salon, 31 avenue Bosquet, 75007 Paris. The book explores their adopted regions in France of Burgundy and the Ardèche respectively, through Greenes’s sketches and poems and Petty’s watercolors. I plan to be there and hope you will attend!
P.P.S. And don’t forget to stop by tomorrow at Parler Paris Après Midi from 3 to 5 p.m. to hear William Jordan, Retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer, talk about “The changing nature of diplomacy, what it’s like being a diplomat in a country like France.” Visit Parler Paris Après Midi for more information.