Edouard Leclerc: Businessman who built a shopping empire


Edouard Leclerc, lauded as an entrepreneurial visionary and a champion of the people, founded one of France's most successful hypermarket chains and the country's biggest food distributor. From the humble beginnings of a small rented warehouse, Leclerc established a chain of outlets across the country, single-handedly changing the landscape of shopping in France – though he was viewed by the French retail industry as a troublemaker.

The E Leclerc chain sells everything from groceries and petrol to clothing and jewellery as well as holidays, all at competitive prices. They are France's second largest booksellers thanks to Leclerc's hand in breaking the monopoly on books during the 1980s. In 2011, the group, founded as a collective of Brittany shopkeepers, had 530 members, 96,000 staff, 556 stores in France with 114 stores across Europe, and another 116 due to open by the end of this year, and sales of €40.6 billion.

Born in Landerneau in Finistère, western Brittany, in 1920, Edouard Leclerc was the sixth child of 15 born to devoutly Catholic parents, Eugene and Marie. He was sent to Neussargues, a seminary in central France, before moving to one at Viry-Châtillon, in the suburbs of Paris. When France fell in May 1940, he returned home. Following the liberation of Normandy, Leclerc was imprisoned for six months, being released in February 1945. He resumed his studies but abandoned his novitiate in 1948, finding work with a freight forwarder at Brest.

In 1949, with Fr5,000, Leclerc opened his first grocery shop, buying directly from factories and selling biscuits, oil and soaps at prices 30 per cent lower than rivals. Other independent grocers were encouraged to put his name on their shops as long as they adopted his methods. During the 1950s, as the "Mouvement E Leclerc" spread, it was criticised for cannibalising other retailers' trade but Leclerc was relentless and took on the corporate establishment, suing manufacturers who refused to sell to him. He even sued his brother repeatedly for using the brand name for personal gain.

In 1956, the first clothing store, Leclerc Vêtements, opened and by 1960 around 60 stores carried the Leclerc brand. In 1965, a year after Carrefour opened their first hypermarket, the founding store at Landerneau became the first Leclerc hypermarket. In 1969, Jean-Pierre Le-Roch broke away to form a rival, Intermarché.

In 1973, Leclerc fought the expansion-restricting "Royer law" which was backed by the French government and oil lobbyists and, in 1979, the movement created the Siplec group in order to be able to sell petrol at lower prices. Finally, in 1985, after 467 lawsuits, a European court decision permitted supermarkets to sell cheaper fuel.

In the 1980s Leclerc played a key role in breaking monopolies on books and health and beauty products and in 1986 revolutionised the jewellery market, taking gold out of its traditional distribution circuit and selling it at a discount in its Manège à Bijoux booths. E Leclerc is now France's No 1 gold retailer. Leclerc joined the fight against pollution and waste and became the first French retailer to introduce reusable bags and limit free bags.

In 2004, in order to preserve the Leclerc brand, the family sold the name to its members for €120m and a year later Leclerc stepped down to allow his son Michel-Edouard to take over. A supporter of Charles de Gaulle, Leclerc criticised many of the General's successors and announced his intention to run for the presidency in 1987, but quickly abandoned the idea.

In retirement, Leclerc's past resurfaced. The reasons for his wartime imprisonment had remained unclear and over the years he pursued a number of defamation cases against business rivals and journalists who accused him of collaborating with the occupying Germans in Landerneau. He always claimed to have been cleared of any offence. However, Leclerc's 2009 appointment as a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur sparked renewed protests from the family of a 19-year-old résistant, François Pengam. The family alleged that after being denounced by Leclerc, Pengam was arrested, tortured and shot on 27 May 1944.

According to Leclerc, he visited the German headquarters in Landerneau "fairly frequently," unaware that it housed a specialist counter-resistance Kommando unit, to hand over letters and parcels addressed to brother novices who had been deported to Dachau and Buchenwald. A signed confession after his arrest in September 1944 confirmed this, but also that he admitted "imprudently" giving names, including that of Pengam, which had resulted in arrests, while claiming to have secured the release of others. A court letter showed he had been released without charge in February 1945, after a psychiatric examination declared him not responsible for his actions.

Martin Childs

Edouard Leclerc, businessman: born Landerneau, Brittany 20 November 1926; married 1950 Hélène Diquelou (three children); died Saint-Divy, Brittany 17 September 2012.

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?