PARIS - Self-made men aren't very common in big French companies, especially at the highest executive levels. Guy Povie is an exception.
Povie joined Renault 28 years ago as a factory worker. Today he runs one of Renault's most important projects - the DP0 automatic gearbox shared with PSA/Peugeot-Citroen.
At age 12, Povie began working in a small garage near his home in Morlaix, Brittany. At 20, he received a technical degree.
'When I looked for a job I thought of carmakers,' he said. 'I started at the Renault Tracteurs plant in Le Mans as a factory worker. But three months later, I told myself that it was not the proper job for me.'
Povie got himself transferred to the plant's manufacturing methods department. It was not the last time he would change his career direction.
In 1971, he moved to Boulogne-Billancourt, Renault's historic plant in Paris. He was still an assembly worker, but he dealt with quality issues. Then he entered Renault's information systems division. For five years he was a specialist in computer-aided manufacturing management.
But the big change in Povie's career occurred in 1979. 'My boss thought I needed an academic education,' he said, 'so I went to the business school.'
Not just any business school, but the famed ESSEC school near Paris. Two years later he returned to take charge of financial analysis inside Renault's corporate control department. His team was responsible for scrutinizing costs and studying the expected profitability of future car models.
'I had two bosses with very strong personalities,' he said, 'first, Stephane Doblin (famed former Renault finance boss), then Louis Schweitzer.'
In 1989, Povie was chosen to enter Renault's exclusive circle of project managers, a position created by former Chairman Raymond Levy. He became one of four men in charge of mechanical components projects. His job was to manage automatic gearbox programs.
Beginning in 1992, Povie took charge of the new four-speed automatic transmission, jointly developed with PSA.
'Renault allows people like me to express themselves,' he said. 'It also gives them the opportunity to go up the ladder.'
Povie said his plant-floor experience gave him 'knowledge of the real world, some good sense, but also respect for other people.'
He says he is 'a man of action rather than an analytical person.'
'I was not a mechanical engineer,' he said, 'but you can complete a project in mechanics without knowing mechanics inside out.'
In early 1998, the DP0 program will be turned over to Gerard Albert, Povie's counterpart at PSA. How does Povie see his future?
'I would like to do something in the field of international operations,' he said. 'As a skipper (he owns a trimaran) and as a Breton, the high seas will always remain appealing.'