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L'Oreal CEO: European economies need to think like companies to survive

From Juliet Mann, CNN
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
  • L'Oreal's CEO says that Europe's economies need to find their global niche
  • Like companies, they need to find their area of expertise to survive
  • Germany has done so succesfully, but Greece has not, he says
  • Identifying France's role in the global marketplace should be an election issue

London (CNN) -- L'Oreal harnessed the French reputation for elegance to become a global cosmetics giant -- and the company's CEO says European economies should apply similar logic to escape their current woes.

Jean-Paul Agon, L'Oreal's chair and chief executive, said European countries need to identify areas of expertise to succeed in the global marketplace -- just like companies.

"You have to specialize yourself in some areas where you are going to be [in] the top league worldwide," he said.

European countries had great potential if they could only find their niche, he added. "Europe could be rich (given) the diversity of its countries, the diversity of its expertise, as long as each country is able to maximize its success, its potential in its own field."

If a country, like a company, wants to develop its business -- to grow -- it has to grab business from all around the world
Jean-Paul Agon, L'Oreal's chair and chief executive

Agon has worked for L'Oreal since joining the company in 1978, with stints heading its operations in Greece and Germany -- an experience he said had given him unusual insight into Europe's current predicament.

"Based on this experience, I can see that it is very difficult for these two countries to live under the same currency," he said.

"I think the German economy is successful because they have found their role in the worldwide economy. I think Greece has also to define what they can be good at, and what they will be known for, and famous for around the world."

Identifying France's particular area of economic potential should be a priority issue in the upcoming election, he said.

"France has talents that no other country [has] ... in terms of luxury, in terms of technology. This is something the world needs and France has a great role to play."

Other European countries needed to do the same thing -- then work in unison as a cohesive economic bloc. France and other countries of Europe needed to unite and define objectives and ambitions, he said.

Each economy was now competing in a global marketplace, "whether we like it or not," he said. "If a country, like a company, wants to develop its business -- to grow -- it has to grab business from all around the world."

To that end, Agon said he expected emerging markets would drive L'Oreal's expansion in the immediate future. Growth is likely to come from China and Brazil, he said, where the middle classes are booming.

"You have hundreds of millions of consumers really want [ing] access to these products," he said.

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