Q&A: Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger
Did you always intend to join the family company?
No. My father was a politician and I was very tempted by politics – I love France and I was interested, but in the end I went into Champagne because I had to find a job. Nothing was forecast.
Did you join Taittinger out of obligation?
I joined out of duty, which is different. Obligation means you were forced, but duty is something more noble – in French we have the beautiful phrase sense de devoir. I came to Taittinger out of a sense of duty, it was my name, and I saw that I had to do something for my family. At first it was duty, and after that it was love. But I didn’t realize I was Mr Taittinger until after I became president. Before that, I was just an employee of Taittinger. It’s not the same thing at all – it’s like the day you become a father, it’s another world.
You say “nothing was forecast”, but when you were five years old your grandfather gave you a book in which he had written: “To my grandson, who will one day be an entrepreneur and guardian of the family tradition”. Did you ever think you wouldn’t be able to fulfill his ambition?
Not really. We all have to follow our destiny. I am a man of faith and I thought that if my grandfather had written it, it would be right, but I never thought that much about it until I bought back Taittinger. I went to see my banker, and he asked me what my program was. I told him what my grandfather wrote, and I said, who would dare to be that entrepreneur? I gave the book to my banker, and told him that if I succeeded, he could give it back to me as the president of Taittinger. And if I failed, he should put it in the fire. One year after we bought back the company he gave me the book.
Between selling the Taittinger group to Starwood and buying back the Champagne business, how long was Taittinger out of your control?
One and a half years. But during that time Starwood made clear they didn’t want to change anything. My uncle was still in charge, and I remained managing director.
Still, it must have been a stressful time…
It was. There were about 50 other companies who wanted to buy it. After a year of battles I finally bought it at auction. We got it because we gave the right guarantees. We were the family, and we persuaded Starwood it was good to keep this great family company inside the Champagne area. Of course, we paid a good price as well – around €600 million [$656m].