Starting out with a large capital already puts you in a higher position to succeed, but it’s not always a guarantee. The truth is, vision is more powerful than money. That’s exactly what sets France’s mega-wealthy apart from everybody else. They are all visionary leaders, working strongly with their imagination, insight and boldness.
Below is a list of the top 10 richest people in France.
10. Pierre Bellon: $3.4 billion
The proud owner of Sodexo, one of the world’s largest catering companies with 413,000 employees in 80 countries, is one of the richest Frenchmen. Sodexo supplies food to the U.S. Marine Corps and is also the preferred caterer for major worldwide events including the Ryder Cup, the Dakar Road Rally, and the World Scout Jamboree. Pierre Bellon stepped down as chief executive of Sodexo in 2005 and wrote his autobiography, “I’ve had a lot of fun.”
9. Martin Bouygues and Oliver Bouygues: $3.7 billion
The Bouygues brothers hold just over 21% of the Bouygues Group, a diversified industrial conglomerate founded by their father in 1952. Apart from building dominant presence in the worldwide construction industry, the group is also involved in telecom and media. Their construction projects are worldwide in scope and scale. These include the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the University of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, the English Channel Tunnel and the Sydney CityRail airport link. The brothers also bought a famous vineyard, the Chateau Montrose, in 2006, and now, their portfolio also includes wine.
8. Alain Merieux: $3.7 billion
Alain Merieux is the son of Marcel Merieux, a former laboratory aide to Louis Pasteur. His father’s inclination towards research and medicine definitely got passed on to him, as he is currently the CEO of BioMerieux, a company specializing in the diagnosis of bacteria in the human body and infectious diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. His intended successor and also his eldest son, Rodolphe, died at the age of 27 when the TWA Flight 800 crashed over Long Island in 1996. The next in line, Christophe, a doctor and also BioMerieux’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development, is now slated to take over in the next few years.
7. Xavier Niel: $4.5 billion
Quite possibly the most controversial billionaire on the list, the 45-year old first had his taste of entrepreneurial success as a teenager when he built an erotic chat service for French Internet forerunner Minitel. Xavier Niel was also a shareholder in sex shops and peep shows until a prostitution scandal landed him in jail for a month. Despite his questionable past, entrepreneur Xavier Niel is well-known for pioneering a number of innovations in the telecommunications and technology industry in France. He is the founder and also the majority shareholder of the French Internet service provider Iliad trading under Free Mobile.
6. Jean-Claude Decaux: $4.9 billion
Having founded JCDeaux in 1964, Jean-Claude Decaux made a name for himself by pioneering outdoor advertising in France. Decaux is currently the chairman of the company’s supervisory board. In 2000, he handed over the CEO position to his sons Jean-Francois and Jean-Charles who now serve as co-CEO’s of the company. The agency got its first break by winning the bid to install advertisements on bus shelters in Lyon. Since 2010, it has been the world’s largest outdoor advertising company with over 10,300 employees operating in more than 55 countries. In 2012, the agency won a contract with the city of Sao Paulo to build 1,000 ads in their digitized clock installation.
5. Alain and Gerard Wertheimer: $7.5 billion
The Wertheimer brothers inherited Chanel from their grandfather, who co-founded the company with Gabrielle (Coco). Chanel is most famous for the little black dress and of one of the world’s best-selling perfumes, Chanel No. 5. The brothers are also professional equestrians, and they own thoroughbreds that have won popular races as the French Derby and the Breeders’ Cup in the U.S.
4. Serge Dassault: $9.9 billion
At 88, Senator Serge Dassault is the current chairman and CEO of Groupe Dassault. He inherited the conglomerate from his father, Marcel Dassault, who founded Dassault Aviation, which makes Mirage and Rafale jets. The group is also involved in a number of industries including software and media. In 2004, the group acquired the news outlet Le Figaro and has since purchased other media companies, thus forming Le Groupe Figaro.
3. Francois Pinault: $13 billion
Born in a poor peasant family in Champs-Geraux, Francois Pinault has definitely come a long way. This French luxury goods mogul owns and manages high-end fashion houses including Gucci, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent. His holding company, Artemis S.A, also owns Converse, Samsonite, Chateau Latour and the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. An art lover himself with an extensive collection of contemporary art worldwide including works by Damien Hirst, Pinault is also the 100% owner of Christie’s, which sold $5.3 billion of art at auction in 2012.
2. Liliane Bettencourt: $24 billion
Daughter of L’Oreal founder Eugene Schueller, Liliane Bettencourt is considered the world’s richest woman because of her controlling stake in the cosmetics giant. With brands like Maybelline and L’Oreal Paris in its low-tier portfolio to brands like Shu Uemura and Lancôme in its luxury line, the company is poised to grow even larger in the future. The French socialite is also a philanthropist. She founded the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation (la Fondation Bettencourt Schueller) to support and develop medical, cultural and humanitarian projects in France and other developing countries.
1. Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault: $29 billion
Back in 1985, Bernard Jean Etienne Arnault put up $15 million from his family’s midsize construction firm to buy Christian Dior. That proved to be a great investment, as he is now the CEO and Chairman of the world’s largest luxury-goods empire, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which includes high-fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Fendi. Aside from his obvious interest in business, he is also a noted art collector and is known for his contemporary collection. His art collection includes pieces by Picasso, Henry Moore and Andy Warhol.
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