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A leader who knows no borders

By Nick Easen for CNN

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"I was not a typical international civil servant I confess -- ask the Kosovo Albanians, ask the Serbs," Kouchner says.

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Bernard Kouchner
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(CNN) -- One of the most popular figures in French politics, Bernard Kouchner, is an unlikely role model for top bosses.

Yet the man behind Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), a one-time U.N. administrator and ex-health minister, is highly skilled in the art of global management.

He has played a crucial role in international humanitarian efforts for more than 30 years, supervising people and projects in many of the world's war-ravaged areas from El Salvador to Rwanda.

The outspoken physician and Socialist Party member proudly describes himself as "an unguided missile," and says he has never had a career strategy in his life.

"To manage a non-governmental organization is certainly worse than managing a firm," Kouchner told CNN.

Firsthand experience of medicine's role in conflict zones came when Kouchner worked as an International Red Cross doctor in Nigeria's civil war in 1968.

Frustrated with the charity's strict code of neutrality and reliance on the permission of the host government to give assistance, he and like-minded medics set up Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) three years later.

And in 1999 MSF -- an organization that believes in the right to intervene with medical aid in any conflict or disaster -- received the Nobel peace price for its humanitarian work.

"To be alone as a pioneer...like we were, was difficult. My strategy was not only to help the people, or transform the world, but to do both," Kouchner explains.

The first United Nations administrator in postwar Kosovo also puts his success down to teamwork.

"All my activities were collective activities -- like setting up MSF and Doctors of the World. I am not able to act alone...I have my style listening to the people," he says.

Contrary to popular French opinion, the 64-year-old strongly approved of regime change in Iraq, after witnessing the plight of the Kurds for decades.

"In my country it's not easy at all. If you are a pioneer you are a target and if you are the winner you are more targeted than before," he says.

A basic tenet for the organizations he manages -- and Kouchner's fundamental mantra -- is the significance of intervention.

"Businesses are sometimes in a position not to follow ethical guidelines. I am not in favor of that but I am realistic. I know it happens," Kouchner explains.

"(We) are all working in China -- what about Tibet? I mean the Americans are, (the English) are, the French are -- is it convenient? Yes for the firms, (but) not for the morality."

CNN's Paula Sailes contributed to this report


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