Paris, FRANCE - Retiree

Interview made by Cyril Bruyelle​ in October 2016

Anthony Boutheliez, is 80-year-old. He has been married for nearly 60 years, had 4 children, 6 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

He spent most of his professional life working for Pechiney in the Aluminium industry, first as a development officer in different parts of the world such as Africa, Singapore, or Australia and later, as his career progressed, he acted as managing director within this firm.

Then, he led a business association called CIAN (French Council of Investors in Africa) which gathers the companies that are investing in the African continent. As for now, he took a step back, and entered the Overseas Sciences Academy as honorary member, he is learning Arabic while managing a company at the Cameroonian Government’s request.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a sailor, specifically a Navy officer. In the end, my professional life was in line with that aspiration even though I did it otherwise. I could not be a sailor as I was diagnosed short-sighted when I was in high school, and to enrol the navy you had to have perfect eyesight. By joining the Institute of Oriental Languages, I more or less willingly pursued that dream. It broadened my horizons and allowed me to live in different parts of the world.   


With whom would you like to have a coffee?

I would have liked to have a coffee with Nelson Mandela but he is dead… I guess I need to find someone else… (it can be someone dead). Then I would definitely have a coffee with Nelson Mandela, because he is, as Ghandi, one of the greatest men of our modern world. When you see how South Africa is currently turning out, I would like to know what he had in mind when he was preaching for reconciliation between communities and promoting black people in the economic system as we can now see some downward spiral.

If you were given a plane ticket to go anywhere you want, where would you go?

A country in Latin America, because I do not know this continent.


If you could choose something that could be taught in every school in the world, what would it be?

I need to think about it…

I would probably teach them the role of Justice. How important is the Rule of Law, particularly these days, because you realize that this concept of Justice is truly universal, contrary to Democracy that has multiple readings. This reminds me of a fourteenth century fresco in Sienna, depicting good and bad government. It is more newsworthy than ever as it clearly shows the role of Justice in the good State.


To you, what’s the main characteristic that all human beings have in common?

The pursuit of happiness, to be happy, to feel good about yourself. This is all essential.


To you, who is the happiest person on earth?

The first who comes into my mind is the Dalai Lama because, on one hand, he manages to cut himself from a number of contingencies, but on the other hand, according to his practice of Buddhism, he remains conscious of the world’s misery…Therefore, I am not sure he is the happiest person on earth.


If you were President of the US, what would your first reform be?

I am thinking of Obama’s project of closing Guantanamo, which he did not manage to achieve, but also of his second reform, on creating a social security system which has proved difficult to put in place and is still not entirely implemented. This aimed at enhancing Americans solidarity.   


What do you need?

Affection from my family, I think this is the most precious thing. And also to stay healthy.


What would you do if we gave you 1 million euro now?

With 1 million euro, I would buy a new apartment. This would be a new adventure as I don’t like to stay at the same place for long. However, I would stay in the centre of Paris for multiple reasons: First, I have been an expatriate for a long time during which I met many of my friends and all of them are sooner or later passing by Paris. Secondly, for its exceptional cultural potential. As you know, age impacts first your brain, so you absolutely need to keep intellectual activities such as the ones provided in big metropolis the world, this is why I would never leave Paris.  


If you had to create a company, what would it be?

My whole life I worked for an industry. It is a difficult question as an entrepreneur is a risk manager. Creating a company is the result of a balance between your skills, what you can do, and what risks you are willing to take… so honestly, I do not know… I think I would probably found a food business aiming at improving the way populations are fed, but this is a very vague idea… 


Which innovation, realistic or not, would greatly ease your day-to-day life?

I need to think about it… it’s an interesting question… I am trying to think about what could improve my day to day life… I really cannot think of anything…

You are asking for an innovation that would make my daily life easier, so it must be connected to my everyday life… A lot of things were made better with modern progress, so it has to be something on top of that… It is interesting but my mind has gone blank…


Later in the interview: The flying carpet! The dream of being capable of traveling anywhere in the world instantaneously.


Can you draw something beautiful?

You are joking me… I am a terrible drawer…

Anthony draws an incomplete yin and yang sign.    

It looks like the yin and yang, this is a Korean symbol frequently used in Asia. You can also think about the Samsara, the wheel, this is a mix of different philosophies…

Can you sing something beautiful?

I sing out of tune… singing something beautiful is probably out of my capabilities… I can think about “Les feuilles mortes” (Yves Montand), 

Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle…

I cannot recall it well but there is that wonderful sentence at the end: Et la mer efface, les pas des amants désunis… It is a poem. I really like this song and it truly moved me while on a trip in Vietnam but this is another story!


What are you afraid of?

When you are as old as I am, you are afraid of mental and physical disability. Lacking freedom of movement and coherent thinking.


What is your dream?

My dream? As a grandfather and great-grandfather, I would dream of seeing my descendants living a life full of happiness. At my age you don’t think about yourself anymore. My dream would definitely be to see others and particularly my family happy.


Close your eyes, you are in 2100, what do you see?

I see an awfully urbanized world, with skyscrapers everywhere as you can see in Singapore today, with very crowded and fast transport network. Teeming and overexcited humanity.


What do you prefer in Nature?

Water! Water as an element, the sea, falls… but mostly the sea, because it is a swaying environment full of life and this is what I love about it. 


If you had to write a book about the current world, what would you be the title?

“The neetle’s touch”, because we all need kindness but in the current world it often stings.


Who is God for you?

God is a mystery. He is not tangible; he is an intellectual enigma that no one managed to solve yet. 


Which of your country's cultural specificities are you the proudest of?

The cultural melting pot. Leopold Sedar Senghor used to say that “humanity progresses through ethnic mixing” and I agree unreservedly with his idea. The French cultural wealth is due to the multiple invasions the country endured by being at the border of the Asian continent. This is the “200 kinds of cheese” country that De Gaulle was so proud of. This is what makes the French population capable of absorbing so many different cultures, and having such an open mind. 


And you, which question would you like to ask to the world?

Why aren’t you listening?

We all speak different languages, which is an obstacle to communication. By thinking our culture or values are better than others, we add arrogance to the equation, and this makes you truly blind and deaf.