When René Dubois, Théodose Dubois’ grandson, died in 1927, he passed the Stéarinerie Dubois on to his two sons, Alexandre and André. He also passed on to them another company in which he had invested: Les Forges et Aciéries de Bonpertuis located near Grenoble.
After his death, his two children will share the tasks.
Alexandre, takes over the chairmanship of the Board of Directors of Stéarinerie Dubois and management of Forges et Aciéries de Bonpertuis, while André is in charge of general management of Stéarinerie.
Over the years Alexandre has focused his activity on the Forges et Aciéries de Bonpertuis, which he will use as a laboratory for his extremely avant-garde ideas in corporate governance. He ceased to be Chairman of the Board of Directors in 1940, nevertheless he remained a shareholder of Stéarinerie.
Following the early death of André in 1950, then the difficulties which ensued, Alexandre Dubois again became Chairman of the Board of Directors in 1961. It was he who gave the impetus to fundamentally transform the company. He died a few years later, in 1964.
Beyond the important role he played within the Stéarinerie Dubois, Alexandre Dubois is above all a major figure in French employers in the mid-20th century. His pioneering ideas, his determination to implement them in his business and his tireless determination to share his vision for the company make him an endearing figure who deserves to be rediscovered.
Alexandre Dubois believes that a “third way” must be found between liberal capitalism and marxism. Inspired in particular by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, he wishes to “revolutionize” the company and the relations with its employees. The relative hostility shown to him by a large part of the employers will be for him an additional source of motivation in order to make his project succeed. An ardent propagandist, he became a central figure in Christian employers: in August 1945 he founded the Union of Business Leaders for the Capital-Labor Association (Uce-act), led and influenced the Center for Young Employers (CJP), participates in the work of the French Center for Christian Employers (CFPC) and the Association of Senior Managers for Social and Economic Progress (Acadi). Alexandre Dubois was also one of the founders, in 1941, of the association Economie et Humanisme, of which he became president after then of world war II.
The idea that structures the thought of Alexandre Dubois is that the company is a center of exchange of services (and not of things) comprising certainly capital and money, but also labor and creative ideas. Alexandre Dubois believes that it is necessary to orient the company towards a community form based on cooperation and participative management. The traditional pyramid structure must gradually be replaced by a horizontal structure that requires delegating certain tasks and sharing information with staff. Alexandre Dubois does not content himself with proposing a new business structure, he puts it into practice within his company, the Forges et Aciéries de Bonpertuis. For example, it integrates employees and their representatives into decision-making bodies and affirms total confidence in its employees, for example rapidly eliminating the time clock in its factory.
These very avant-garde ideas will be fought both by the employers, who see them as a loss of power, but also by the unions who prefer to stick to a dissenting attitude based on the class struggle.
They will nonetheless inspire the establishment of the “Interessemen” then the “participation”, even if Alexandre Dubois was rather proud that General de Gaulle resumed his formula to launch his project (“decapitalize without beheading”), Alexandre Dubois thought that limiting the participation to the financial dimension was a mistake and a misunderstanding.
This vision for the company was probably too far ahead of its time. It nevertheless finds echoes in the current experiences of autonomous teams conducted at Michelin and in many other participatory management experiences.
If you would like to know more about the life and work of Alexandre Dubois, we recommend reading the article by Xavier Hollandts, Professor at Kedge Business School: PARTICIPATORY MANAGEMENT, A REALIZED UTOPIA? – The experience of Alexandre Dubois at the Bonpertuis steelworks.