In 1986, the former chief of staff to the French prime minister was out of a job. Elections had brought a change of government - and a change of staff. Louis Schweitzer pondered a new career.
An old friend, Georges Besse, suggested that Schweitzer join Renault to 'hide for a year' before resurrecting his civil service career. Soon, Schweitzer found himself selling cars in a Paris showroom. 'It was all part of the learning curve,' he said in an interview earlier this year.
'I was glad to move out of the civil service at the time, but Besse made sure I learned the ropes from the ground up. I worked at a dealership for a few months. I sold some cars, although I was not very good at it. I am not pushy enough to be a salesman.'
The assassination of Besse on November 17, 1986, left Schweitzer in shock. Not only did he lose a friend but also the mentor that had brought him to Renault. But it did not slow Schweitzer's progress too much. He rose to chief financial officer in 1988, and took over as chairman when Raymond Levy retired. But Besse's death did cause Schweitzer to take stock.
'I did have security for a while when I first became chief executive. And I still do occasionally when I visit places like the Basque region or some South American countries. Once, I got told off by Renault colleagues for walking along the beach in Rio in the early hours of the morning when I was suffering jet lag.
'I was stopped from going on holiday to Guatemala with my family because I was a high risk. There is a lot of kidnapping going on in the country, and I could have been a very high profile target.
'Security can be a problem for people in various areas of the world. We have offices in Medellin in Colombia that can be quite dangerous. Carlos Ghosn has admitted that he will not stop at a red light in Brazil at night.'
A TinTin FAN
Schweitzer's interests include theater, and his taste is sometimes esoteric. Last year, Schweitzer endured an 18-hour Chinese play. He says he likes the theater's spontaneity. 'You can see a film or listen to a record many times over, but you will never see a play or an opera performed exactly the same way twice.'
Schweitzer also enjoys bicycling and travel, and is married with two daughters. He has a passion for Tintin cartoons and even has a model of the character on his desk. 'It was given to me by the Renault racing team,' he said. 'They knew I liked the stories; it's also rather nice to look at.' Renault's chairman says he owns several thousand comic books and notes that this particular art form is not considered trivial in France.
Schweitzer expects to work another six or seven years before he retires. 'The problem is knowing when to go,' he said. 'It is 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.'