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

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project