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Learning the business from the ground up

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Turnaround specialist Thierry Breton had just taken over as CEO of Thomson Multimedia, a French government-owned home electronics company on the verge of collapse.

So, what was the first thing he did?

Instead of relying on managers to educate him, Breton spent several days working undercover at Darty, a Paris-based electronics outlet where he learned firsthand what customers thought of Thomson’s TVs and VCRs.

With that knowledge, Breton moved Thomson’s business away from low-margin home electronics and into higher-end products, including interactive TV and digital film editing.

By 1999, the firm was turning a $230 million profit on sales of $6.5 billion. By the time Breton left in 2002, revenues had increased by more than 80% and Thomson was outperforming Sony, Matsushita and Philips.

— Adapted from Thierry Breton, Encyclopedia of Business, www.referenceforbusiness.com.

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