Mireille Guiliano, chief executive of Clicquot Inc., has run the champagne and wine company for nearly two decades, speaks four languages fluently, possesses a connoisseurs's knowledge of wine, and has an abiding interest in literature. But what did colleagues always ask her? How she stays so slim when she eats out some 300 times a year.
Her best-selling book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005, $22), is her answer. She calls her approach "the ultimate non-diet": Eat small portions of a variety of food, make meals social occasions, and never have more than three bites of dessert. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Associate Editor Susan Berfield about how to live and work well. Edited excerpts of her thoughts follow:
On the importance of CEOs' eating habits
CEOs are the leaders and standard-setters for their companies. If they're fat or practice poor eating habits, it sends a message to members up and down the organization that this is acceptable behavior. Staying slim is more than looking and feeling good. It also helps long term, avoiding diseases that fat people get. Plus, the additional energy, sense of well being, happier mood and attitude that one experiences when one is bien dans sa peau is good, efficient business.
On the temptations of modern life
All developed countries are lucky in that we have plenty of foods and variety. But we're surrounded by food at all times. We all have to face this trap.... People have to be responsible for what they put into their bodies.
On work/life balance
Personal life is very important and should come first. What will come of a society where people at airports are on their computers eating a Big Mac? It's time for a reality check.... We should think about what really matters in our life.
On being called a "feminine" executive
The wine world is a man's world. I don't swear, I don't raise my voice, I don't scream at people. What would that accomplish? If something goes wrong, I'll talk to the person. It's a more sensitive approach.
Probably one of my strengths is intuition. I can tell when there's something going on in [my staff's] personal lives. If people have a good private life, they can do good work. If you have a lousy life, if you're fat, overweight, not happy, how can you have energy to perform?
On working in France
I don't think I could work there -- there's a different method to working there. I prefer the American way; it's more proactive. Being extroverted, fast, and energetic, I wouldn't really enjoy sitting days and days and days in meetings. I prefer to strategize, innovate, go out.
The reaction of her French women friends to the book
"You're telling them all our secrets? Are you crazy?"