The two faces of Xavier Niel

Xavier Niel (Photo Raphael Lafargue/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Ten billion euros in assets, status as a telecommunications and press tycoon, shares in dozens of start-ups, a real estate empire: Xavier Niel, 55, feels like he’s done it all. However, the founder of Iliad (Free) has never looked so active. But what does he want?

It’s so rare that it couldn’t go unnoticed: Xavier Niel lost a battle. The acquisition of La Provence. After a heated duel with Marseille billionaire Rodolphe Saadé, president of CMA CGM, Niel finally relented. The conciliation process orchestrated by Marc Sénéchal, one of the most prominent legal representatives of the moment, allowed the two billionaires to agree: a big check for Niel, La Provence for Saadé.

He cleaned up in the Iliad

But this trap reminds us that the founder of Free, a gifted hacker turned formidable entrepreneur, rarely fails in his entrepreneurial or financial adventures. Provence is an exception. Usually, Xavier Niel wins his case, thanks to his fortune, his influence, or his talent. A choice.

The evolution of his fortune is one example among many of the telecom tycoon’s success. In 2010, Xavier Niel was ahead of a jackpot of two billion euros. In twelve years, he multiplied his fortune by five (10 billion euros) and expanded his sphere of influence in several areas. He even managed to get rid of the clumsy shareholders of Iliad (7.59 billion euros in revenue), Free’s parent company. In late 2021, he withdrew his group from the stock market to free it from pressure from the financial markets and have carte blanche to compete with Gafam which has its eye on the telecoms sector. Niel now owns nearly 97% of Iliad’s capital.

An unimaginable real estate asset

If he made his tech fortune with his flagship Free, Niel quickly diversified his portfolio. Over the years, with millions of euros, he built a real estate empire in Paris. His obsession: mansions. Niel owns between six or seven in the capital (a Villa Montmorency residence, the Palais Rose on Avenue Foch, the Hotel Coulanges on the place des Vosges, a hotel on Avenue d’Iéna, the Hôtel de Miramion near Notre-Dame, etc.) .

Your biggest madness? He spent 200 million euros (50,000 euros per square meter!) to buy the most beautiful private mansion in the capital – the Lambert hotel, located on the island of Saint-Louis (4th), former property of the Emir of Qatar – not to live there. , but to establish a… cultural foundation there. The billionaire and his partner Delphine Arnault, general manager of Louis Vuitton and heiress to the LVMH group, also bought a mansion in Cap Ferret for 17 million euros.

But the founder of Iliad doesn’t just buy houses, he also owns a golf course, near Chantilly (Oise), and a palace in Courchevel (Savoie), together with those of Bernard Arnault or Dominique Desseigne, in which he invested 100 million euros with the Pariente brothers (former Naf Naf). He is also the 25% shareholder in the world leader in commercial real estate Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (56.3 billion euros in assets).

An Emperor of Telecommunications

Xavier Niel is hyperactive. He may be ahead of France’s twelfth fortune, he continues to launch projects, invest in start-ups and manage Free on a daily basis. This thirst for entrepreneurship allows him to be at the forefront every day. He is already the French king of telephony, but he wants more. So he develops Free on the forced market. He has just taken 2.5% (857 million euros) from Vodafone, the UK’s third-largest telecommunications company (thanks to the pound’s fall against the euro). He would also like to buy the Italian subsidiary of the English operator. Free is already positioned in Italy and Poland. Xavier Niel himself has several foreign operators in Switzerland, Ireland, Monaco and Senegal.

The French billionaire set another goal: to invent tomorrow’s agriculture. Only that. He launched Hectar, a farm, agricultural campus and start-up accelerator whose ambition is to train a new generation of entrepreneurs, but also 2MX Organic with Moez-Alexandre Zouari (Picard) and banker Matthieu Pigasse. The trio raised 300 million euros and partnered with the giant InVivo.

Mediawan, Station F, 2MX Organic, Kima Ventures

At the same time, it tries to revolutionize education (school 42), payment on the web (Stancer), audiovisual production (Mediawan) and start-up development (Station F). But that is not all. Xavier Niel is one of the most active French business angels: his fund, Kima Ventures, invests 20 million euros a year in around a hundred start-ups (between 700 and 800 since 2015). He is also a shareholder in a bauxite mine (ore that allows the production of aluminum) in Guinea and bought the catalog of songs by… Claude François!

Not to mention the press. Some relatives claim that he reads everything. What we are sure is that Xavier Niel frantically buys titles: Le Monde, Nice-Matin, Paris-Turf, La Gazette des courses, Cheval Magazine, France-Antilles… He has just launched L’Informé, an investigative medium. He even teamed up with Silvio Berlusconi to try to buy (in vain) the M6.

According to some sources, Niel would use the sulphurous ex-president of the Italian Council to obtain the favors of the new government of Giorgia Meloni… The reason? Iliad has 10 million customers in Italy.

From the pink Minitel to legal disputes: an eternal pirate?

Approved by the Pink Minitel and even sentenced to 2 years in prison with a suspended sentence because of his activities in the “peep-shows” sector, before revolutionizing the ISP sector and becoming the biggest French business angel, Xavier Niel maintained that desire to shake up the codes.

On the one hand, the entrepreneur who works in various sectors, who initiates revolutions and wants to change the world; on the other, the ruthless investor, the long-toothed billionaire, the press tycoon seeking political influence. Which of these two faces should be remembered? Unless you have to be decidedly uniquely out of the ordinary to do well in today’s economic and financial maestro.

Victor Cazale

Leave a Comment