Thierry Breton (born 15 January 1955 in Paris) is a French businessman, a former Professor at Harvard Business School, and a former Finance minister of France. He has been Vice Chairman and CEO of Groupe Bull, Chairman and CEO of Thomson-RCA (1997–2002), Chairman and CEO of France Télécom (2002–2005).
Today an Honorary Chairman of both Thomson and France Telecom, he is, since 2008, Chairman and CEO of international information technology services company Atos.
He was from 2005 to 2007 the French Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry in the governments of Prime Ministers Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Dominique de Villepin, Jacques Chirac being the President de la Republique.
Early life & Education
Born in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, Thierry Breton completed his middle and high school education at the Ecole alsacienne in Paris and University-preparatory school classes for the Grandes écoles at Lycée Louis-le-Grand. He received a master's degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Supélec in 1979 and later graduated from the Institut des hautes études de défense nationale (IHEDN).
Thierry Breton began his career in 1979 as a professor of IT and Mathematics at the Lycée Français de New York as part of his military service through cooperation. In 1981 he created Forma Systems, a systems-analysis and software-engineering company of which he became CEO until 1986. He became that year adviser to the French Ministry of Education and Research René Monory and designed open-air science and technology theme park Futuroscope. From 1990 to 1993, he was managing director of CGI Group, a global information technology company.
In 1993, the French government hired Thierry Breton to help turn around troubled national computer maker Groupe Bull. As second in command, he managed to restructure the stock-market listed company and became in 1996 Vice-President of the Board of Directors. He is widely credited with pulling Bull from the edge of bankruptcy.
18 years later - in August 2014 - he became President of the Board of Directors following the company's acquisition by Atos.
In 1997, the French government named Thierry Breton chairman and CEO of Thomson Multimedia, a state-owned consumer-electronics company that was on the verge of collapse. A year before France's prime minister Alain Juppé unsuccessfully tried to sell the company to South Korea–based Daewoo for a single franc.
Thierry Breton made stock offerings in order to generate cash and diversified the company's businesses, figuring that consumer-electronics products were not high-end enough to consistently earn profits over the long term. Breton involved Thomson in interactive television, electronic publishing, and the Internet, as well as the higher-margin business of digital film-editing services. Thomson began manufacturing televisions with built-in software to run the electronic reference.
Thomson's new ventures instilled investors with renewed confidence in the company and allowed Thierry Breton to attract bigname companies such as Microsoft, Alcatel, NEC, and the DirecTV division of Hughes Electronics. By 1999 Thomson was turning a $230 million profit on sales of $6.5 billion. By the time Breton left in 2002, revenues had increased by more than 80 percent and Thomson was outperforming Sony, Matsushita, and Philips, its major consumer-electronics competitors.
He was elected Strategist of the Year by French financial newspaper La Tribune and was named Honorary President of the company in September 2002 following his departure for France Télécom.
Widely acclaimed as a Turnaround whiz Thierry Breton was named by French government as head of multinational telecommunications corporation France Télécom on October 2, 2002.
In the past year, the company's share price had fallen about 70% while debts have ballooned to 60 billion euros ($54bn). A risky acquisition strategy that included mobile phone operator Orange, data carrier Equant and Internet service provider (ISP) Freeserve as well as several new, third-generation mobile phone licences had left France Telecom with the infamous title of the world's most indebted listed company.
At the time Thierry Breton took over share prices were worth less than 7 euros. Two months after his arrival these share prices had risen by 170%. He launched Ambition FT 2005 and generated a three-tiered plan that called for cutting costs to increase cash flow, refinancing debt, and generating $16 billion from shareholders through a capital increase, all in efforts to save $30 billion over three years
The operator was simultaneously facing an intensification of the competition in its long time market of France, as well as a demand from the ARCEP to unbundle ADSL. As a response to these challenges Thierry Breton notably ended Orange’s venture on the stock market and took back complete control over the subsidiary and its earnings.
In July 2003 he launched the plan Broadband internet for all with the objective of providing broadband to 90% of the French population. To do this he increased spending in the innovation sector by 20% and launched the charter Innovative Departments to speed up the development of broadband in rural areas. The following year the company recorded more than 7000 patents filed in France and abroad. In the same year France Télécom reintegrated with Wanadoo in order to integrate fixed telephony and service provider activities. In July 2004 Breton announced the launch of Livebox, the operator’s first Triple Play offer and France Télécom would become the first organisation to implement the concept of integrated operator.
In September 2004 the French government finalised the privatisation of France Télécom on which it had been working progressively since 1996. However, in accordance with the law of the 31st December 2003 proposed and supported by Thierry Breton, the specific status of the employees was maintained.
When he left the company for the Ministry of the Economy in February 2005 the share price was 23 euros. In less than three years the company’s debt was reduced to less than 40 billion euros. He was named as Honorary President of France Télécom.
In January 2010 the Harvard Business Review first published a list of The 100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World which was based on an academic study comparing the performances of the heads of industry of the 2,000 biggest global companies, in their relevant fields, from 1995 to 2009. Thierry Breton held the 62nd position for his term as CEO of France Télécom.
After two years of government service (2005-2007) he became in November 2008 the active chairman and CEO of Atos S.A., formerly Atos Origin. On the announcement of his nomination the share price, which was previously valued at 18 euros, rose by 7.84%.
In 2008 Atos generated a sales revenue of 5.5 billion euros with a headcount of 50,000 employees but according to Thierry Breton was “managed too compartmentally” and the company’s inferior profitability margins compared to those of its competitors required a complete transformation plan.
In July 2011 he orchestrated the acquisition of the IT activities of German industry group Siemens which allowed the company to rank number one among the European IT services players and in the Top 5 worldwide, with 75 000 employees in 42 countries. The deal, valued at €850m ($1.1bn), was the biggest Franco-German transaction since an alliance between Germany’s premium carmaker Daimler and France’s Renault early this year. The operation was lauded by the financial markets and the Atos share price rose by 11.6%.
With the integration of 28,000 engineers Atos became one of the most important Franco-German industrial collaborations since Airbus, illustrated particularly by a financial partnership (Siemens took 15% of Atos’ capital), and a common investment fund of 100 million euros was created as well as a joint response to international tenders. This strategy was awarded the prize for Industrial cooperation by the Franco-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
In 2012 Thierry Breton adopted the Societas Europaea for Atos which gave the company two headquarters, one in France and a second in Munich, Germany. Furthermore, he participated in other European institutional projects in which the Franco-German partnership played a central role such as the European Commission’s European Cloud Partnership (2012-2014) over which he co-presided with Jim Snabe, the co-CEO of the German world leader in software SAP.
In May 2014 Thierry Breton launched a friendly takeover on French historic IT industry player Bull, turning Atos into the number one European company and one of the major global players in Big Data and Cybersecurity. This acquisition, again commended by the markets (Atos’ share price rose by 6.2% and Bull’s by 21.9% the day of the announcement) notably allowed the company to position itself in the Supercomputing segment and to become the sole only European manufacturer.
Six months later he announced Atos’ acquisition of Xerox’s IT outsourcing activities as well as a strategic partnership with the American company. This operation, which was viewed favorably by the Stock Market, made Atos one of the five largest digital companies in the world. The company had doubled in size within six years with a headcount of around 100,000 employees.
Thierry Breton got World attention after an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2011 when he reiterated his intention to ban internal Email, dubbed as “the pollution of the information age”, at Atos within 18 months (known as the Zero-Email™ Strategy), replacing internal emails by a set of Enterprise Social Networks, Enterprise Instant Messaging, Collaborative tools etc…, both being developed inhouse and partially aggregated from other vendors.
In 2012 he was elected Strategist of the Year by French financial newspaper Les Echos for his management of Atos.
In May 2015 the company’s market capitalization rose to 7.29 billion euros, an increase of more than 5 billion euros compared with November 2008 when Thierry Breton took over office. The market share price of Atos grew by 268% in five years.
Minister of Finance
Having already been proposed twice to succeed Nicolas Sarkozy as Finance Minister, Thierry Breton was appointed on 24 February 2005, replacing Hervé Gaymard.
During his two and a half years at the head of Bercy he centred his economic policy on the need to reform public finances, specifically in order to reduce debt. In June 2005 he declared that France lives beyond its means, a sentiment echoing the words of the Prime Minister Raymond Barre in 1976. He stated to the French people that the entirety of their income tax would serve only to finance the interest payments on the national debt.
A month later he set up a commission presided over by BNP Paribas CEO Michel Pébereau which was given the task of breaking the pattern of public debt.
He stipulated the maintenance of public deficit below a level of 3% of GDP in 2005 and 2006 as his primary goal. At the end of 2005 France’s deficit fell to 2.9% of its GDP after three consecutive years of surpassing the figure of 3%. In 2006 the public deficit was further reduced to 2.5% and public debt was recorded to have dramatically fallen to 63.9% of GDP. For the first time since 1995 the country’s budget was in a situation of primary surplus. At the same time France’s GDP rose by 2.1% in 2006 compared with 1.7% in 2005.
In October 2005 Breton proposed a law on “the modernization of the economy” which was voted in the same year and looked to prioritize SMEs’ access to financial markets, encourage research and promote giving employees a stake in the company’s outcomes. On this occasion he also announced himself in favor of the status of the Societas Europaea being written into French legislation to allow businesses to operate throughout the EU on the basis of a unified set of financial rules.
At the same time he led a reform for fiscal simplification which attempted to reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to four and put in place a pre-filled internet based declaration of revenues.
During this period he unveiled the concept of the tax shield, which he would initiate in 2006 at a level of 60% excepting health insurance and social debt reimbursement. This was taken up again by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 with a lowering of the level to 60% and an inclusion of health insurance and social debt reimbursement.
Thierry Breton wanted France to be the first country to move forward in developing its immaterial heritage. Thus in March 2007 he entrusted a report to Maurice Lévy and Jean-Pierre Jouyet on the economy of the immaterial with the goal of creating an agency for the immaterial heritage of the state which ambition would be to valorize the state’s immaterial assets (use of image; brands etc.) This one-of-a-kind agency was put in place on the 23rd April 2007. This immaterial heritage was recorded as 10 billion euros worth of assets in the state’s annual report in 2010.
In February 2007 the unemployment rate was at 8.4%, the lowest recorded score since June 1983.
He finished his term on the 15th May 2007 at the end of Jacques Chirac’s five-year term. The handover of power to Jean-Louis Borloo, named as Minister of the Economy by the newly elected President of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy, took place the following day.
He served as director in many boards such as: AXA; La Poste; Dexia; Schneider Electric; Bouygues Telecom. He sits today on the board of directors of Carrefour where he chairs the Compensation and Benefits Committee. He also is member of Bank of America's Global Advisory Council.
After leaving the government, he has been a Professor at Harvard Business School (2007–2008) where he taught Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA). He has been also the Chairman of the University of Technology of Troyes in France from 1997 to 2005.
He is the author of many books about information technology and economy, and co-author of a novel about cyberspace.