Unlike most other automotive executives, Louis Schweitzer was not born with gasoline in his veins. In fact, he is a former government bureaucrat - an ironic biographical footnote for the man who guided Renault's emergence from the cocoon of French government ownership.
The morning after the elections in 1986, the former chief of staff to French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius was out of a job. A change of government brought a new man to office - and a change of staff. For Schweitzer, who had been in government service since 1970, it was a sobering turn of events.
Georges Besse, a former colleague who had become Renault's chairman, suggested Schweitzer join the state-owned automaker.
Schweitzer, who was accustomed to advising the most powerful man in the country, soon found himself selling cars in a Paris showroom.
'It was all part of the learning curve,' Schweitzer said. 'Georges Besse was an old friend, and someone I admired a lot, but he made sure I learned the ropes from the ground up. I worked at a dealership for a few months and, yes, I sold some cars, although I was not very good at it. I am not pushy enough to be a salesman. Then I spent time in a factory learning about production.'
With a background in financial affairs, Schweitzer became vice president for finance and planning, taking over from Besse's successor, Raymond Levy, as chairman in 1992.
'It is a long way from being a civil servant,' he said. 'The car industry always seemed to me to be more unique and emotional than most other high-tech industries - and I do like cars.'
In his spare time, Renault's chief gets his exercise on a bicycle and his entertainment from the theater - 'more high-brow than low-brow,' he says. Married with two grown daughters, Schweitzer indulges a passion for Tintin cartoons. He even has a model of the character on his desk.
'It was given to me by the motor racing team because they knew I liked the stories. Unlike many other countries, comic writing is not considered trivial in France, and I have thousands of these books. Besides, the model is also rather nice to look at.'
Now that he has launched Renault in overseas markets, is Schweitzer thinking about retirement? His contract runs through 2002, and he won't reach Renault's retirement age for another five years.
'`I would like to carry on for as long as possible,' he said. 'The problem is knowing when to go. You can stay too long, and I would not like that to happen, and it is also difficult sometimes for others to tell you to step down. I would like to think that Carlos Ghosn would take over from me ultimately. I have the utmost respect for him and he would do a very good job.'