In Memoriam : Bertrand Collomb (1942 – 2019)

The honorary president of Lafarge (now LafargeHolcim), Bertrand Collomb, passed away on May 24, 2019, at the age of 76. As soon as the news was known, the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to the memory of this “great captain of French industry”, who was also a “citizen engaged in the challenges of his time”. 

His career 

Born in Lyon (Rhone) in 1942, after studying at the Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole des Mines, Bertrand Collomb obtained a PhD in the United States, at the University of Texas. He began his career in administration, in the Ministry of Industry. He passed through the Ministries of Administrative Reforms and National Education, before joining Lafarge, the world leader in building materials. He spent the rest of his career there, becoming Chairman and CEO and Chairman of the Board.

During his time at Lafarge, Bertrand Collomb turned the company into a global economic player. Following the acquisition of Lafarge by Swiss cement company Holcim in 2015, he became a member of the Board of Directors of the new LafargeHolcim Group. He left office in 2018, when he reached 75, the age limit to sit as a director.

His involvement in the Bilderberg Group

Betrand Collomb was one of 13 French who have represented their country in the Bilderberg since 1954. Antoine Pinay and Guy Mollet were the first French members of the Group. Succeeded, besides Collomb, by the Governor of the Bank of France Wilfrid S. Baumgartner, the banker Edmond de Rothschild, the financier Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, the banker André Lévy-Lang, the industrialist Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the thinker Thierry de Montbrial, the insurer Henri de Castries, the Honorary Governor of the Bank of France Jean-Claude Trichet, the lawyer Nicolas Baverez, as well as the businesswoman Patricia Barbizet.

Bertrand Collomb was a member of the Steering Committee at the turn of the millennium, at the same time as André Lévy-Lang. He participated in 14 Conferences of Bilderberg. The first was in 1991 in Baden-Baden, Germany. He was reinvited the following year, in Evian-les-Bains, France. Subsequently, it took him four years to receive the precious invitation again. From that moment and for almost twelve years, he took an active part in the management of the Group. The last meeting he attended was that of 2008, in Chantilly, United States.

The meeting of Evian-les-Bains in 1992 represented a pivotal moment in Bilderberg’s history. This was the first meeting of the Group after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty (7 February 1992), which gave life to the European Union and, at the same time, it was the first meeting after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (December 26, 1991). It represented a real revival of the Bilderberg Group in France and France in Bilderberg. Eighteen French were invited to take part in the meeting. Among them,  besides Collomb, Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy, who was accompanied by the Minister of Economy and Finance Michel Sapin, the Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic Hubert Védrine, the diplomatic advisor of President François Mitterand, Pierre Morel and of Parliamentarian Jacques Toubon. In addition to the members and former members of the Steering Committee, Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière (FIMALAC), André Lévy-Lang (Paribas), Thierry de Montbrial (IFRI) and Ernest-Antoine Seillière (Compagnie Générale d’Industrie et de Participations), it is possible to mention also the presence of Bernard Arnault (LVMH), Loïk Le Floch-Prigent (ELF), Philippe Jaffre (Credit Agricole), Claude de Kemoularia (Paribas), Antoine Riboud (Danone), Philippe Villin (Le Figaro) Philippe Lagayette (Banque de France ) and Alexandre Lamfalussy (BIS).

The agenda of the meeting was as follows : (I) Prospects for the former Soviet Republics – (II) What Should be done for Eastern Europe ? – (III) Whither the United States ? – (IV) The World Economy. – (V) Whither Europe ? – (VI) Remarks of Pierre Bérégovoy, Prime Minister of France. – (VII) Soviet Union : the View from Moscow. – (VIII) Current events : Yugoslavia. – (IX) The Migration issue. – (X) The evolving West/West Relationship.

The voice of France

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, few French people have been invited to participate in the Bilderberg Conferences as keynote speakers. Bertrand Collomb was one of them. He was asked to co-host a session at the 1997 meeting in Atlanta, USA entitled “The Return of the European Left: Sign of Innovation or Reaction?”. He shared the stage with Thierry de Montbrial, British academic Will Hutton and House Leader of the Opposition Robert M.J.C. Cranborne (also known as Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquis of Salisbury). All this, under the watchful eye of moderator of the discussion, Henry A. Kissinger.

Les “Amis français du Bilderberg”

The French branch of the Bilderberg Group is organized into a non-profit organization called “Les amis français du Bilderberg” (which means “The Bilderberg’s French Friends”). Bertrand Collomb will be the administrator and treasurer when he is called to represent France in the Steering Committee. Founded in 1990, its founders gave it the mission “to ensure the promotion and development of the image, fame and influence of the Bilderberg in France“. 

These were: Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, who became the first president. Thierry de Montbrial, who assumed the duties of Secretary General. And finally, Véronique Morali, who became the treasurer. The two men then sat on the International Steering Committee. The first was then the Vice President and General Manager of L’Oréal. The second was the founder and Managing Director of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). Ms. Morali, meanwhile, was at the time the right arm of Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière. Together, they had set up Financière Marc de Lacharrière (FIMALAC), a holding company that was to allow its owner to become a billionaire in a few years, by putting his hand on such nuggets as the Fitch Group (owner of the company Fitch Ratings, one of the world’s largest rating agencies, with Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s).

The legal seat of the association “Les amis français du Bilderberg” was initially established at 10 Place du Général-Catroux, in Paris, in the offices of the journal Valeurs actuelles, owned by Marc de Lacharrière. When, two years later, he and Veronique Morali left their positions at the Bilderberg, it was necessary to find them substitutes but also a new legal seat. A formality that the association will have to fulfill three times, in less than twenty years, given the limited number of its members (three maximum) and their frequent renewal (the mandates last on average four years). From the 17th arrondissement he migrated first in the 2nd, 41 avenue de l’Opera, hosted by a major agency Bank Paribas. Then, on February 12, 2002, he was moved to 61, rue de Belles-Feuilles (16th), at the headquarters of Lafarge.

This corresponds to the moment when Bertrand Collomb was co-opted within the Group and became treasurer of his French branch.

Strange as it may seem, it seems that before 1990, the French branch of the Bilderberg was devoid of legal form. It continued to cultivate the informal spirit desired by the founders of the Group, while other national branches – American, British and Dutch in particular – had long since made the choice to appear in the open and to transform themselves into a set of associations and national foundations, coordinated by a central office in the Netherlands. All this, following the disappointments of Prince Bernhard, in 1976.

The first question that comes to mind is why having waited almost fifteen years before following the example set by the Anglo-Saxon countries? The second is what was the reason that pushed the members to embark on the path of transformation?

A semblance of response is given by a statement: the creation of the association coincides with the obtaining by France of the mandate to organize the Bilderberg Conference of 1992. The laws and morals had changed since the last meeting which took place in France, in Megève, in 1974. It was no longer conceivable to organize such an event, draining large amounts of money and requiring considerable logistics, without resorting to a legal structure that assumes the legal responsibility. And it is therefore probably out of necessity that the French members of the Steering Committee opted for the legal form of a non-profit law association of 1901.

Other functions

As we have said, Bertrand Collomb spent his entire career at Lafarge. Beyond these functions, he will cumulate others, in the private as in the associative sector.

Collomb was appointed President of the French Association of Private Enterprises (Afep), in 2001. Subsequently, he will assume the functions of Chairman of the Board of Directors of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) from 2004 to 2011. His successor will be Thierry de Montbrial, one of the founders of IFRI and his predecessor in the Bilderberg Group. His French team-mate on the Steering Committee, André Lévy-Lang, is also a member of the IFRI Board of Directors.

For the record, all three will participate together in the Bilderberg Conference of 1997, which will take place in Atlanta, USA. With them, two other compatriots: the academic Olivier Roy and the vice-president for strategic coordination of MatraHachette, Jean-Louis Gergorin, who was also one of the co-founders of IFRI, in 1979.

At the time of his death, Bertrand Collomb was President of the Institut des hautes études pour la science et la technologie (IHEST, Institute of Advanced Studies for Science and Technology). He was also a member of the Trilateral Commission Europe (the most famous Bilderberg’s” offshoot”) as well as the Club “Le Siècle”, an exclusive French circle of reflection of which several leaders or former leaders participated in the Bilderberg Meetings. To name just a few: Claude Bébéar, Jerome Monod, Jean François-Poncet, Simon Nora, Rigaud Jacques, Denis Olivennes and Jean-Pierre Jouyet. Other members played a role in the smooth functioning of the Steering Committee, like André Lévy-Lang and Jean-Claude Trichet.

Bertrand Collomb has been a director of multinational companies like Total, DuPont, Unilever and Vivendi Universal, but also a member of the European Round Table (ERT), President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Director of the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation (IASCF).

Member of the Institut de France, Bertrand Collomb was President of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for 2013. He was Commander of the Legion of Honor and Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit.