Xavier Niel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Xavier Niel
Niel in 2014
Born (1967-08-25) 25 August 1967 (age 56)
Known forFounder, chairman and majority shareholder, Iliad
PartnerDelphine Arnault (2010–present)

Xavier Niel (born 25 August 1967) is a French businessman. He is involved in the telecommunications and technology industry and is the founder and majority shareholder of the French Internet service provider and mobile operator Iliad trading under the Free brand (France's second-largest ISP, and third mobile operator).[1] He is also co-owner of the newspaper Le Monde,[2] co-owner of the rights of the song "My Way"[3] and owner of Monaco Telecom, Salt Mobile SA and Eir.[4] He is chairman and chief strategy officer for Iliad,[5] but also a board member of KKR and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.[6][7]

As of August 2021, his net worth is estimated at US$10.5 billion.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Xavier Niel was born into a middle-class family; his father is a lawyer for a pharmaceutical laboratory, and his mother is an accountant. He studied in the 12th arrondissement of Paris at the Saint-Michel-de-Picpus Catholic private high school.[9][10]

Niel started early by developing telecommunication and data services and embarked at a young age on an entrepreneurial career soon after his father gave him a Sinclair ZX81 computer as a Christmas present when he was 15.[11]

In 1987 at 19, while dropping out from school, he successfully created then sold his first company, a Minitel (a French forerunner of the internet) service company. This minitel-site provided sex oriented chat services. To do so, Niel bought press licenses in order to be able to become a service editor, diverting it in order to set up its commercial services. Through this, he became a millionaire in euros at the age of 24.[12]



In 1995, he invested in the first Internet Service Provider in France, World-NET, created the previous year by Sébastien Socchard, Philippe Langlois and Pierre Séguret. This company was sold for 30 million euros the year before the internet bubble burst.[13]

Telecommunications with Iliad

After taking over a company subsequently renamed Iliad SA, Xavier Niel launched in 1996 the 1st reversed directory service on the Minitel. This service was responsible for 1 million euros of revenue per year for Iliad until the end of the minitel in France in 2012.[14] Niel remains Iliad's majority shareholder, holding 71%[15] of the share capital.

In 1999, he created Free, a French Internet service provider. The name came from the fact that modem access was really free, which caused some stir among other (non-free) French Internet providers, as well as it raised some questions about Free's business model. In 2002, Free launched a broadband package at a low price (€29.99 per month), which became the benchmark in the market. At the same time, Free developed and launched the Freebox: the first triple-play multi-service box in France. The free modem service had brought to the company a strong potential customers portfolio, many of them switching to the broadband for the sake of comfort.

In 1999, he founded Online, a French hosting company.

In 2012, he created Free Mobile, which offered unlimited voice calls, text and data at the lowest price of the market in France (€19.99 per month).[16][17]

The entrepreneur launched the Iliad Italia brand in Italy in 2017, which in April 2021 conquered 9% of the market or 7 million subscribers with mobile offers for less than 10 euros. A launch on fixed connectivity is also planned for 2021.

In 2018, the Iliad SA share price collapsed, going from €212 in January 2018 to €95 in November 2018. After restructuring its assets leading to the creation of the holding HoldCo, Xavier Niel did major maneuvers to reconquer the markets and strengthen its position in the capital of Iliad.[18] In November 2019 he bought back at €120 more than 11.7 million Iliad shares (i.e. 20% of the company's shares) via a public share buyback operation, automatically raising the price to this level.[19] Thanks to this operation financed by a loan guaranteed on Iliad shares held in his holding company Holdco, he increased his control from around 52% to 72%.

In September 2020, through Iliad, he launched a public offer for the Polish operator Play, leader of the Polish mobile market with 15 million subscribers after having bought a 96% stake on the market for 2.2 billion euros.[20]

Telecommunications with NJJ Holding

In 2014, Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) sold its 55% economic interest in Monaco Telecom to NJJ Capital, an investment vehicle controlled by Xavier Niel for US$445 million.[21]

On 18 December 2014, via its holding company NJJ Capital, he acquired for 2.7 billion dollars (2.8 billion Swiss francs) Orange Switzerland (owned by Apax Partners since 2012), which was renamed Salt Mobile SA in April 2015. In May 2019 Salt Mobile SA sold 90% of its towers for 800 million dollars to Cellnex[22][23]

In September 2018, he bought 100% of the Cypriot operator MTN Cyprus through Monaco Telecom for 260 million euros, the carrier was rebranded into Epic in June 2019.[24]

In April 2018, through NJJ he personally invested 330 million euros for 32.9% of the capital of Eir. Iliad, for its part, took a 31.6% stake in Eir's capital with a call option to buy back 80% of NJJ's stake in 2024.[25]

In April 2018, via NJJ, he acquired a stake in the capital of Tigo Senegal through the "Teyliom" consortium, a company which was rebranded into Free Senegal in October 2019.[26]

In March 2020, he bought 100% of the operator Vodafone Malta through Monaco Telecom for 250 million euros, market leader for telecommunications operators in Malta, in the fields of mobile, internet and fixed communications. The company was rebranded into Epic on 18 November 2020.[27][28]


In October 2020, through his holding NJJ he buys shares on the stock market of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield with Leon Bressler and Susana Gallardo, the consortium announced in late October 2020 that their stake in the company exceeds 5%,[29] following their announcement the consortium was able to cancel the company's plan of capital increase following a shareholders vote in early November 2020, consequently they gained three seats at the company's board.[30]

In November 2020 the consortium obtained the resignation of Colin Dyer, president of the supervisory board but also its vice president and three other board members, at the end of this meeting Niel's ally Leon Bressler was elected president of the supervisory Board.[31]

In April 2021, Niel announced that he owns 15.5% of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.[32]


In late 2010, along with Pierre Bergé and Matthieu Pigasse, Niel acquired a controlling stake in Groupe Le Monde which edits the daily newspaper Le Monde but also magazines such as l’Obs, Courrier International and Télérama.[33] In February 2020, Niel acquired through his personal holding 100% of Groupe Nice-Matin, which edits the newspapers Nice-Matin, Var-Matin and Monaco-Matin. The group also own an 11% stake in La Provence.[34][35] In March 2020, he acquired France-Antilles, a daily newspaper in the French West Indies.[36] In June 2020, Niel acquired Paris-Turf which is France's first horseracing newspaper.[37]

Other investments[edit]

In March 2010, Xavier Niel cofounded with Jeremie Berrebi Kima Ventures,[38] a fund dedicated to invest in 50 to 100 startups a year everywhere in the world. Kima Ventures already invested in 330 companies from February 2010 to August 2014 in 32 countries. Business Insider described Xavier Niel and Jeremie Berrebi as almost certainly the most active angel investors in the world.[39] Since 2015, Jean de La Rochebrochard is the Managing Partner of the fund.[40][41]

In 2013, Niel created a school named 42, which is a free technical school with no teachers, no books, no tuition for 1000 people every year.[42] As of 2021, 33 campuses have been opened in the world.[43]

In June 2017, Niel welcomed the French President Emmanuel Macron for the inauguration of Station F, a business incubator for startups located in Paris, known as the largest in the world.[44]

In April 2021, he became the first shareholder of the company Unieuro, which is the largest Italian retailer of consumer electronics and household appliances by number of outlets, with a network of 460 stores throughout Italy.[45]

In April 2023, French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel is part of an investor group that on Thursday announced it had bought a 7.5 per cent stake in Swiss asset manager GAM.[46]

In October 2023, Xavier Niel announced €200 million investment in artificial intelligence which includes "the purchase of a supercomputer and the creation of a dedicated research laboratory."[47]

Judiciary problems[edit]

In May 2004, Niel was indicted and detained for a month for alleged procuring and misuse of company assets, which occurred in several sex shops in which he was a shareholder. In August 2005, a Nolle prosequi was pronounced for the procuring part of his indictment, while in October 2006, he was given a two years suspended prison sentence for the misuse of company assets.[48]


In August 2015, Wired named him as the seventh most influential personality in technology in the world.[49]

In February 2017, Vanity Fair named him the most influential French person in the world abroad.[50]

Personal life[edit]

Niel's domestic partner is French businesswoman Delphine Arnault, who is a director and executive vice president at Louis Vuitton, and the chairwoman and chief executive officer of Dior. She is the daughter of Bernard Arnault. He has a daughter with her and two sons from a previous relationship, and lives in Paris.[8][51][52][53]

Since 2013, he has also owned a five star hotel in French ski resort Courchevel.[54] In 2016, he acquired a mansion in Paris located in Place des Vosges in The Marais for $31.5 million.[55]


  1. ^ "France v Google". The Economist. 12 January 2013.
  2. ^ Kuper, Simon (3 May 2013). "Lunch with the FT: Xavier Niel". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 3 March 2017.
  3. ^ "Xavier Niel - Forbes". Forbes. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
  4. ^ "Cable & Wireless sells Monaco Telecom stake to Xavier Niel". Reuters. 25 April 2014 – via uk.reuters.com.
  5. ^ "Iliad management team". Iliad. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  6. ^ "Corporate Governance – KKR & Co. Inc. – Investor Relations".
  7. ^ "Xavier NIEL".
  8. ^ a b "Forbes profile: Xavier Niel". Forbes. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  9. ^ "Xavier Niel, fondateur de Free, le cactus des télécoms". Capital.fr (in French). 26 March 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  10. ^ GODELUCK, Solveig; PAQUETTE, Emmanuel (20 October 2016). Xavier Niel (in French). edi8. ISBN 978-2-412-02140-8.
  11. ^ Kumar, Udhaw (27 December 2012). "Self-made Billionaire Xavier Niel: The Entrepreneurial Journey that Began at the Age 15". Brainprick. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Xavier Niel : le rebelle des télécoms" (PDF). 6 February 2004. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  13. ^ O'Brien, Kevin (5 May 2013). "A Billionaire Who Breaks the Mold". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  14. ^ "3617 ANNU, toujours une valeur sûre pour Iliad". freenews.fr. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  15. ^ Digitale, Usine (18 March 2020). "Xavier Niel de retour aux commandes d'Iliad et de Free".
  16. ^ Garside, Juliiette (23 February 2012). "Xavier Niel: rebel storms bastions of Gallic elite". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  17. ^ Dillet, Romain (3 September 2012). "How The Telecom Company Free Disrupted The Mobile Landscape In France". TechCrunch. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  18. ^ "Xavier Niel réussit son sauvetage du titre Iliad". 16 January 2020.
  19. ^ "Iliad: Résultat de l'OPRA, 15,24 millions de titres ont été apportés à l'offre". 16 January 2020.
  20. ^ "Iliad-Free se lance en Pologne avec le rachat de Play". 21 September 2020.
  21. ^ Armstrong, Ashley (25 April 2014). "Cable & Wireless Communications sells Monaco stake to French billionaire". Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Xavier Niel buys Orange Switzerland for €2.3bn". Financial Times. 18 December 2014.
  23. ^ "Cellnex annonce acquérir la totalité des pylônes de Salt (Xavier Niel) en Suisse". 7 May 2019.
  24. ^ "MTN moves forward with 'epic' change". knews.com.cy. 21 June 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  25. ^ "French telecoms tycoon Niel to take over Ireland's eir in $770 million deal". Reuters. 20 December 2017.
  26. ^ "Télécoms: Tigo Sénégal racheté par un consortium comprenant Xavier Niel". 2 May 2018.
  27. ^ Monaco Telecom becomes first mobile operator in Malta (PDF) (in French and English), Monaco, 31 March 2020, archived from the original (PDF) on 19 April 2021{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  28. ^ "Vodafone Malta becomes Epic as part of Monaco Telecom takeover". 17 November 2020.
  29. ^ "Unibail : Le consortium mené par Xavier Niel possède désormais 5 % du capital". 22 October 2020.
  30. ^ "Immobilier: Le coup de force de Xavier Niel chez le géant Unibail". 10 November 2020.
  31. ^ "Léon Bressler élu président du conseil de surveillance d'Unibail". 13 November 2020.
  32. ^ "Xavier Niel détient 15,5% du capital d'Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield". 6 April 2021.
  33. ^ "Le Monde Ousts Top Manager". The New York Times. 15 December 2010. Retrieved 13 January 2011. Le Monde said the official, Éric Fottorino, had been ousted from his key role as president of the management board, where he will be succeeded by Louis Dreyfus, an adviser to Matthieu Pigasse, a Lazard banker who bought a controlling stake in Le Monde with Pierre Bergé, co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, and Xavier Niel, a telecommunications entrepreneur.
  34. ^ "Nice Matin: Xavier Niel finalise le rachat, finance un plan de départs volontaires". 11 February 2020.
  35. ^ "Xavier Niel rejoint Bernard Tapie au capital de la Provence". 28 June 2019.
  36. ^ "L'Offre de reprise de " France-Antilles " déposée par Xavier Niel validée". 17 March 2020.
  37. ^ "Xavier Niel devient le nouveau propriétaire du groupe Paris-Turf". Le Monde.fr. 30 June 2020.
  38. ^ "Kima Ventures - The most active Business Angel in the world". www.kimaventures.com.
  39. ^ "The Most Active Angel Investor in the World on Investing Everywhere and Reaching Breakeven Fast". Business Insider.
  40. ^ Selmer, Marie-Caroline (18 January 2022). "Jean de La Rochebrochard : " Pour un entrepreneur, être soutenu par Kima Ventures, c'est avoir entre ses mains un formidable joker "". Forbes France (in French). Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  41. ^ "Jean de La Rochebrochard". Europas. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  42. ^ "This French tech school has no teachers, no books, no tuition — and it could change everything". 13 June 2014.
  43. ^ "L'École 42 continue de se développer, avec un réseau international de 33 campus partenaires". 18 January 2021.
  44. ^ "Emmanuel Macron attendu à l'inauguration de Station F". 23 June 2017.
  45. ^ "UPDATE 1-Iliad buys 12% of Italian consumer electronics retailer Unieuro". Reuters. 6 April 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  46. ^ Agnew i, Harriet (26 April 2023). "French billionaire Xavier Niel joins other investors to buy GAM stake". Financial Times.
  47. ^ "French businessman announces mega investment in artificial intelligence". RFI. 26 September 2023. Retrieved 26 September 2023.
  48. ^ "Prison avec sursis pour Xavier Niel". L'Express. 27 October 2006. Retrieved 13 January 2011. Xavier Niel, pionnier de l'Internet en France et fondateur de la société Free, a été condamné à deux ans de prison avec sursis et 250 000 euros d'amende pour des détournements de fonds dans des sex-shops(...)Il lui était reproché d'avoir touché de 2000 à 2004 une somme d'environ 5000 euros par mois en espèces prélevée sur des recettes non-déclarées de sex-shops de Paris et Strasbourg, dans lesquels il possédait des intérêts financiers depuis les années 80. La justice le soupçonnait initialement de proxénétisme, en raison des activités de prostitution exercées par des employées de ces sex-shops. Il a bénéficié d'un non-lieu sur ce volet.
  49. ^ "The 2015 WIRED 100". Wired UK.
  50. ^ "Les Français les plus influents selon " Vanity Fair "". 21 November 2017.
  51. ^ "Biographie de Xavier Niel" (in French). Challenges. Retrieved 25 May 2020. Le compagnon de Delphine Arnault, fille de Bernard Arnault, est le plus gros business angel français
  52. ^ Ellison, Jo (10 October 2014). "Lunch with the FT: Delphine Arnault". Financial Times. Retrieved 25 May 2020. She declines to confirm whether or not Niel is the father of her daughter, or even her daughter's name.
  53. ^ Lasry-Segura, Edith (13 March 2017). "Au Lys-Chantilly, ce " ghetto des riches " où François Fillon s'impose". Le Parisien. Le domaine, présenté comme un "ghetto de riches", compte quelques personnalités parmi ses habitants. Comme le fondateur de Free, Xavier Niel, ou le Premier ministre Bernard Cazeneuve.
  54. ^ "L'Apogée à Courchevel, le palace de Xavier Niel - Challenges". 25 December 2013.
  55. ^ "La dernière folie immobilière de Xavier Niel". Challenges (in French). 6 June 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2022.

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