Mr. Macron juggled his work for Mr. Hollande’s campaign with his duties as an investment banker for Rothschild & Cie. Leveraging connections made through Mr. Attali, Mr. Macron helped arrange Nestlé SA’s $11.8 billion purchase of Pfizer Inc.’s baby-food business.
The takeover made Mr. Macron wealthy and taught him how to curry favor in a risk-averse corporate culture. “You’re sort of a prostitute,” he says. “Seduction is the job.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Hollande faced pressure in a tight election campaign to reassure his Socialist Party base. In January 2012, he delivered a barnstorming speech that warned of a “nameless, faceless” menace to France.
“This enemy is the world of finance,” Mr. Hollande told a cheering crowd. Behind the scenes, he dispatched Mr. Macron to London to reassure investors that the presidential candidate wasn’t a hard-liner.
The two men clashed when Mr. Hollande vowed to levy the 75% tax on salaries of more than one million euros. Mr. Macron fired off an email to Mr. Hollande, hoping to steer him to a softer stance: “This is Cuba without the sun!”
After his election, lawmakers approved the tax, and Mr. Hollande stocked his cabinet with left-wing Socialist Party members. Arnaud Montebourg, who regarded government as a guardian against corporate takeovers by foreigners, was named France’s industry minister.
But in a sign of Mr. Hollande’s determination to balance competing interests, the new president hired Mr. Macron as his deputy chief of staff and primary conduit to the business world.
Under pressure from the European Union to balance public finances, Mr. Hollande announced €7.2 billion in additional taxes on companies and wealthy people—and then raised the tax bill by €20 billion.
A business rebellion
French business owners rebelled. They protested the plan publicly, and layoffs pushed France’s unemployment rate above 10%. Mr. Macron urged Mr. Hollande to change tack, and the president unveiled corporate tax credits of €20 billion in November 2012. Mr. Macron later convinced Mr. Hollande to double the tax breaks despite criticism from the left.
Mr. Macron also confronted Mr. Montebourg over his attempt to engineer a merger between French engineering firm Alstom SA and German rival Siemens AG. Mr. Montebourg wanted to stop U.S.-based General Electric Co. from buying Alstom’s core turbine business.
In a June 2013 meeting at the Élysée Palace, Mr. Macron told Mr. Montebourg, who had been promoted to economy minister: “You can block a marriage, but you cannot force a marriage.”
Mr. Montebourg relented. The next day, the French government backed GE’s proposed $17 billion acquisition. A spokesman for Mr. Montebourg didn’t make him available to comment.