Breton outsider set for battle as the rules change in France

FRANcOIS PINAULT, the man behind the partial bid for Gucci, is the richest man in France and the most successful and controversial French entrepreneur of his generation.

The only person who could dispute both titles is Bernard Arnault of LVMH - the man whose ambition to buy Gucci may now be thwarted by Mr Pinault.

The first head-to-head clash between the two comes at a time when three of the largest French banks are locked in a hostile takeover battle. Traditionally, French capitalism has been softer and more consensual than the Anglo-Saxon variety. The times, it seems, are changing in France.

Mr Pinault, 62, a diminutive Breton, started out with a rural logging business which he took over from his father 36 years ago. He now controls a global business empire, estimated to be worth pounds 1.5bn, extending from the British-based auction house Christie's to the Vail ski slopes in Colorado, embracing the FNAC, Printemps and Pisunic chain stores in France on the way.

Apart from his purchase of 40 per cent of Gucci, Mr Pinault is also buying the company that controls the fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent - another recent Arnault target.

Unlike Mr Arnault, Mr Pinault is a French outsider who managed to become the best-connected of insiders. One of his closest friends is the President, Jacques Chirac.

He is known, however, for his loathing of the French far right and was recently accused by Jean-Marie Le Pen - without any evidence whatever - of bankrolling the breakaway movement that split the National Front in January.

Mr Pinault began his expansion by picking up cheap businesses in the Breton bankruptcy courts. In the late 1980s he moved his skills into the national and international leagues, picking up struggling companies with state aid.

It has been alleged that Mr Pinault had access to inside information on the rival bids - not illegal, but typical of the kind of dealings that have left a slight whiff of sulphur trailing in his wake.

Mr Pinault's greatest coup occurred in 1992. He received a soft loan from the hugely over-extended state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais, which enabled him to buy - at virtually no cost to himself - a series of junk bond portfolios in the US.

The seller was Credit Lyonnais itself, which was forced to unload by US regulations. Some of his American acquisitions doubled and tripled in value over the following five to six years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there