Obituary: Francis Bouygues

Francis Georges Bouygues, industrialist, film producer; born Paris 5 December 1922; Founder President and Director- General, Societe Bouygues 1951-89; Chairman, Societe Commerciale d'Affretements et de Combustibles (SCAC) 1978-93; Vice-President, Fondation pour Entreprendre 1986-93; married 1946 Monique Teze (three sons, one daughter); died Saint-Coulomb, Ille- et-Vilaine 24 July 1993.

IT IS a story that astonishes everyone. And everyone is delighted to be astonished. A man borrows a modest sum of money from his father and from his father-in-law. He founds a building company with 10 workers, and he runs it from a small flat in the suburbs of Paris. Forty years later he has more than 80,000 people working for him and his company is worth nearly 80,000 million francs. This is the story of Francis Bouygues.

There was much else that caused Bouygues to be a national hero in France. Although he was born in Paris, he always spoke of himself as coming from Auvergne, like his grandfather, and being, like all Auvergnats, reluctant to spend money. When he acquired the privatised television company TF1 he had to write out a very hefty cheque, and as people congratulated him on winning the battle to win TF1 he would reply, 'I'm from Auvergne, do you think I enjoyed signing that cheque?' He was very much a family man, and went to considerable lengths to keep his enterprises as a family business. It was a blow to him when his son Nicholas left the company.

But as a father he could be difficult and he had fits of anger which have been described as 'Homeric'. He was often pessimistic and viewed any new enterprise in a gloomy manner. And he was also innocent. When he moved into television he met people who were famous throughout France, but he had no idea who they were. When he moved into producing films it is said that on being introduced to Jeanne Moreau he asked her what she did 'dans la vie'. But he was patient, and was very far from being an all- dominant, interfering personality.

Francis Bouygues qualified as an engineer at the Ecole Central in Paris. It is said that the first contract given to his firm was the renovation of a sugar refinery in the Paris suburbs, but it was in the late 1960s that the big expansion began, when he built the present Parc des Princes with more than 50,000 seats. Bouygues moved into the provinces and abroad, particularly to the Middle East. Not everyone likes the hypermarkets or the American-style commercial centres (like that at Parly II) that now mark the entrance to most French towns, and not everyone likes the towers at Nanterre or Bagnolet. But they were built by Bouygues. More successful is La Defense, with its giant arch, the original airport of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, and the congress centre at the Porte Maillot. He himself was particularly proud of the bridge that links the Ile de Re to mainland France, and the extremely modern and daring building that became his headquarters at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

Naturally, Bouygues was attacked. It was said that he was a political intriguer in order to get contracts. Socialists claimed that TF1 had a bias against them, but it was a Socialist Minister of Finance, Jacques Delors, who presented Bouygues in 1982 with the award of the best manager in business. Naturally Bouygues had his failures, particularly with his film-production firm Ciby 2000, which he formed in 1990. But at the last film festival in Cannes it was his film La Lecon that won the highest award.

Stories about Bouygues abound. It is said that when he won the contract to build the University of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, a cheque for dollars 343m was flown by Concorde, to be deposited in a New York bank. But it was agreed that when the work was finished the money would be transferred to Bouygues in francs. When this happened the dollar had increased in value by more than 40 per cent. It was what the Franch call 'Le Jackpot'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing