On this day in 1986 Georges Besse, the 58-year-old CEO of French automaker Renault, was gunned down just steps from his Paris home. Besse had become head of the company in 1985 when it was not profitable. Under his aggressive actions, Renault reported gains for the first time in years, just two months before Besse’s assassination. In addition, Besse invested heavily into American automaker AMC, of which Renault was a major stockholder. While many executives saw AMC as worthless, as it too was losing money at the time, Besse forecast Jeep to be among the most profitable brands in North America. He did his part to make it happen.
The quick turnaround of Renault was not without significant loss for the French people. To become profitable Besse ordered the closing of several plants and laid off some 21,000 workers across the country. The job loss upset thousands across France, and it may have been what led to the CEO’s death. As Besse exited his chauffeur-driven car outside his home in Paris’ 14th Arrondissement, gunfire erupted, leaving him dead.
Three months later flyers from the French militant anarchist group Action Directe arrived in the mail at Renault, claiming responsibility for the murder in retaliation for the massive layoffs. The arrests of two women affiliated with the group occurred not long after. Nathalie Menigon and Joelle Aubron denied responsibility during their trial, as did other representation of Action Directe. The court handed down a guilty verdict in March 1987 and the women each received a life sentence.