Années 1930. À une culture technique forte, Air France ajoute des savoir-faire tertiaires. Elle devient une entreprise commerciale, à la gestion rigoureuse.
FIVE COMPAGNIES, FIVE OPERATING MODES
Born out of the merger of the airlines Air Orient, Air Union, the Société Générale de Transports Aériens (formerly Farman Airlines), CIDNA (formerly French-Romanian), and Aéropostale, Air France inherited five networks, a dispersed fleet, and scattered personnel: more than 2,500 people in all. These teams had an immense job. Flight is the airline's most visible activity. Behind the scenes, it was necessary to perform all of the administrative and accounting work to support it: commercially with active marketing; technically with research departments, trials, workshops, and the like. This took a coherent group of support departments.
To form a single company, Air France had to shape all of these departments into a common mould, and standardise methods. Three divisions were created – the Equipment Division, the Sales Division, and the Operations Division – along with a financial department.
FROM A TECHNICAL CULTURE TO A SALES CULTURE
At 2 rue Marbeuf in Paris (the former head office of Air Orient), 179 people were on staff at the head office, increasing to 292 people in 1938. The considerable amount of work stimulated innovation. The financial services manager developed several management principles that would become standard, such as calculating cost prices. Using impressive equipment (Bull and Hollerith), Air France monitored daily and monthly traffic, route by route.
Air France added service expertise to a strong technical culture. It became a commercial company with rigorous management. In 1940s, an executive assistant brought new methods back from the United States: analytical accounting, forecasting, and budgeting management.
COMPUTING IN EVERY DEPARTMENT
The Personnel Division became larger and more professional. Air France was growing around the world. Its staff numbers had increased tenfold since it was created. There were 24,000 employees in 1964, including nearly a quarter of them abroad.
Given this growth, the head office was transferred the following year to an ultramodern building in Montparnasse that became home to 1,200 people. Computing, which reduced the constraints of geographical dispersal, became part of every department. An ad hoc IT division was created in 1964, at the same time as a Management Research and Control Division. The search for profitability became a priority in a competitive environment that also required a real communications strategy.
FROM MONTPARNASSE TO ROISSY
An extensive network of communication professionals was developed, in charge of building, promoting, and conveying the airline's messages to its different targets: employees, customers, shareholders, and media. This network became even larger as Air France grew. After the acquisition of UTA in 1990, Air France had more than 40,000 employees. Support departments – HR, Purchasing, Information Systems, Economy and Finance, and Communication – continued to grow at Roissy, where the head office was transferred in 1995. They had moved to the centre of Air France's aviation activity.