By Sophie Sassard and Anjuli Davies
LONDON, March 7 The first time Anne Meaux met
Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal he laughed at her.
It was 2005, and she had just walked unannounced into the
steel magnate's office to tell him he needed to change his
strategy if his hostile bid for steelmaker Arcelor were to be
palatable to the French government.
Mittal stopped laughing, and listened. Then he clinched the
The incident was an early example of an ability to tell
unpalatable truths to powerful people that has since propelled
Meaux to the position of France's top PR advisor.
Mittal still seeks her advice, but is now part of a client
list that reads like a who's who of French business and includes
luxury goods tycoon Francois-Henri Pinault and
construction-to-telecoms boss Martin Bouygues.
Just last month Meaux advised the Peugeot family on a
complicated state-backed 3 billion euros capital raising with
Chinese partner Dongfeng - again demonstrating
an expertise in brokering complicated international deals that
has taken her PR business Image 7 from strength to strength.
Meaux - small, blonde and wearing a black leather jacket
during her interview with attributes her frankness to
a stint, when still a teenager, in the press office of French
president Valerie Giscard d'Estaing. She spent a further 15
years advising politicians before setting up Image 7 when she
was 34 years old.
"Once you've dared say things to someone as impressive as
President Giscard at 19, you can tell anyone anything", she
Meaux is now 59, and alongside her thriving PR business she
runs Force Femmes, an association which helps women aged over 45
to find work after years out of the labour force.
The organisation is born of her own experience of seeing her
mother struggle when her father - a doctor and the family's sole
earner - left home when Meaux was a teenager.
"What happened to my mother had a strong impact on me. If
Force Femmes had existed at the time.. she could have had a
decent life," Meaux said.
"We are here to help women be realistic about their
Older women are still unfairly stigmatised in the world of
business, Meaux believes, but her advice to them is the same as
it is to all women in her field: be bold, and be inventive.
"People tend to stigmatise (older women). I don't believe in
that... You need to break down the walls and come up with
Loyalty, and a sensitivity to people's feelings has also
helped Meaux get ahead in the business arena.
Francois Pinault was one of the first clients of Image 7 and
as a result Meaux later turned down an offer from his rival
Bernard Arnault to work as his communication adviser.
That decision paid off when Pinault's son Francois-Henri,
took over. He still employs Meaux as PR advisor for an empire,
now known as Kering, which spans labels as diverse as
fashion house Gucci and trendy sneakers Converse.
Working with Mittal, Meaux was able to see why his year-long
takeover battle for Arcelor had run into difficulties, where
bankers focused on shareholder value could not.
"No one had realised that for the French, Arcelor was still
a French company," said Meaux. "French people wanted to be
treated with respect. They could not believe their eyes when
they saw this Indian billionaire standing there in their town."
She organised dinners to introduce Mittal to France's top
businessmen and politicians and took him to meet officials and
workers at each of Arcelor's plants in France. Relations
improved, and the deal was done.
Away from the office, Meaux enjoys ancient Greek and Latin -
her mother taught both - and has a son and two daughters, the
eldest of which has just joined Image 7.
Meaux laughed: "I said, 'You really want to work with your
mother?' But she thought it would be good fun - and it's all
going very well."