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A socialist CEO - looking to the long term

Dressed in a gray businessman's suit and installed comfortably in a plush and spacious 12th-floor office at Rhone-Poulenc's headquarters here, Loic Le Floch-Prigent seems every bit the image of the powerful, self-assured capitalist. He is, after all, the president of France's largest chemical company.

But Mr. Le Floch-Prigent is also a dues-paying member of the Socialist Party. ''I disagree fundamentally with the US system of running companies,'' he says, pointing to the massive layoffs in American heavy industry over the past few years. ''I don't believe such brutality is productive.''

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Mr. Le Floch-Prigent asserts that state management offers the chemical concern the best chance for long-term success. While Rhone-Poulenc continues to lose money - last year losses reached $105 million on sales of $5.1 billion - it is planning confidently for the future.

Spending on research this year will rise to $250 million. This investment is being financed from the government's injection of some $220 million into the company this year and from private financing, which will enable the company to invest a total of about $450 million this year and even more in 1985 and 1986.

''We are now able to plan for the long term,'' he said. ''I have been able to rationalize the operations without worrying too much about the short-term losses.''

This is not an excuse, though, he admits, for turning Rhone-Poulenc into a loss-ridden state employment agency. Mr. Le Floch-Prigent is trying to strike a balance between the company's role as an arm of the socialist state and its existence as a corporation that must compete with privately owned companies.

On the one hand, he asserts, ''We have to make profits.'' He signed a contract with the government in March pledging to restore Rhone-Poulenc to the black within three years. ''To do this, we have to be competitive, to produce the product at the same price as the competitor.''

On the other hand, he says, he feels a social responsibility toward his workers. Although several hundred workers will lose their positions, Mr. Le Floch-Prigent is having a Rhone-Poulenc subsidiary help them find other jobs. Already 150 of the workers have been relocated.

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