Richard, Pierre 1941–
Chairman of the management board and chief executive officer, Dexia Group
Born: March 9, 1941, in Dijon, France.
Education: Attended University of Dijon, BS; Ecole Polytechnque, master's in engineering; Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, and University of Pennsylvania; attended Columbia University, 1966–1967.
Career: Institute for Urban Studies, Paris, 1967–1968, professor; Cergy-Pontoise, 1967–1972, deputy manager, Urban Planning Department; Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, 1972–1974, technical advisor; General Secretary of the President of the French Republic, Secrétariat general de la présidence de la République, 1974–1978, technical advisor; French Ministry of the Interior, 1978–1982, head, local authorities department; Caisse des dépôts et consignation, 1982–1985, deputy manager; Crédit local de France, 1985–1987, head of the board of trustees and vice president; 1987–1996, president and chief executive officer; Dexia Group, 1996–1999, cochairman; 1999–, chief executive officer.
Awards: Order of the Legion of Honor, Officer of the National Order of Merit and Commander of the Order of Léopold II.
Address: Square de Meeûs, 1 B-1000 Brussels, Belgium; http://www.dexia.com.award>
■ Pierre Richard was the chairman of the executive committee and group CEO of Dexia Group. He was cochairman with Francois Narmon until 1999, when he assumed the role of CEO. Before cofounding Dexia with Narmon, Richard had been chairman and CEO of Crédit Local de France, deputy general manager of the Caisse des Dépots et Consignations, and head of the Local Authorities Department at the French Ministry of the Interior. Richard, who was said to favor an American model of corporate governance, also served on several boards of directors, including those of the European Investment Bank, Compagnie Nationale Air France, Le Monde,
Crédit du Nord, Generali France Holding, and Financial Security Assurance.
Dexia was created in 1996 by a merger between Crédit Local de France and the Crédit Communal de Belgique. The name Dexia was adopted in 1999 after a merger with Banque International Luxembourg. Dexia was one of the first transnational banks and specialized in local public financing. The group was established in anticipation of the European monetary union, which took place in January 2002. Dexia became one of the 15 most important banks in the European Union. The company offered retail banking services in more than one thousand branches in Belgium and Luxembourg, where its traditional banking activities were principally located. The group was also present in Italy, Sweden, Germany, Austria, and Spain. With an aggressive acquisition policy, Dexia targeted markets in the United States, the Benelux countries, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Its worldwide presence was consolidated after Dexia opened offices in the Americas, Asia, and Australia. Other Dexia services included asset management, private banking, and financial insurance.
BUILDING A CITY AND A CAREER
Richard was trained as an engineer and spent much of his career as a civil servant and urban planner. He was one of the principal planners of the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise, an optimistic attempt at rational demographics and urban planning that went horribly wrong. Cergy was a collection of cités, or housing projects, intended to provide assistance to low-income families, but by the 1990s it had become a synonym for social alienation, poverty, and crime.
Richard's background as an urban planner made him something of an outsider among France's banking elite, who initially regarded him with condescension. If he was an outsider, he was an outsider from the inside, having been educated at the elitist and exclusive Ecole Polytechnique and later at the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées. His years as a civil servant and urban planner, nevertheless, provided Richard with a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of public finance.
In 1972 the secretary of state Christian Bonnet recruited Richard as a technical advisor in his cabinet. After the general elections of 1974 President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing appointed Richard technical advisor to the General Secretary of the President of the French Republic. Richard's work as an urban planner was sufficiently impressive to allow him to take part in the creation of the Ministry of the Environment and Quality of Life. He was then appointed to head the local authorities department in the Ministry of the Interior. Richard entered the financial world in 1982, when Robert Lion picked him to be general manager of the Caisse des dépôts et consignations. In 1985 Richard was appointed head of the board of directors of the public financing bank Crédit local de France and worked his way up the corporate ladder to become vice president then president and CEO.
BEARDS AND BEASTS: DOING IT HIS WAY
Richard's rise to become head of the Dexia group, Europe's 15th largest bank and at the time the leading bank in public finance, was remarkable for the fact that he was not a tax inspector, practically a requirement in France for qualifying as CEO of a bank. Tenacity in the face of adversity explained his success. Richard flouted the mores of his community by sporting a beard, however neatly cropped. Richard had grown the beard as a sign of radical individuality during the student riots of 1968, a time when beards in France were considered controversial. When he was a candidate to be an adviser on housing to Giscard d'Estaing, Richard was informed that the French president did not like beards. Richard replied that he would discuss the issue only with the president himself. Richard kept the beard throughout his career.
Richard relished his reputation as a nonconformist, and Dexia under him had a unique corporate culture. "Investors say Dexia is a strange animal and I am not sure if this is a positive or a negative. We don't say we are better than other banks, only that we are different," Richard noted to Brian Caplen of the Banker (February 1, 2004). While transforming Dexia into a banking giant, Richard remained conscious of his role as an outsider among banking giants. He made a career out of pitting himself against larger beasts, and in his private life he practiced dressage once a week. "I like it as it is a lesson in humility, a way to surpass my fears since the horse has an independent personality. In our personal life we succeed when we surpass our fears," Richard told Karina Robinson of the Banker (August 1, 2001).
Richard's management style was influenced by his years in the United States. Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America, was a major role model for Richard and a principal source of inspiration. A portrait of the social philosopher hung on a wall in Richard's office. Richard pointed out that de Tocqueville was an advocate of decentralization and was in charge of the law to decentralize France in the 19th century. Accordingly, Richard had a democratic rather than autocratic approach to running his shop. "We have a collegial management, much more so than a French bank," he told Robinson. Nevertheless, in 1999 Dexia was reorganized, and Richard found himself indisputably in charge.
A TRUE EUROPEAN: RICHARD'S LEGACY
Richard was an energetic CEO who created and later led the first truly European bank. He transformed Dexia into a worldwide competitor and established a banking and management model that would be an example for the rest of Europe. Although Dexia was not a universal bank, Richard expanded operations into carefully chosen niche markets. Through an aggressive acquisition policy, Dexia became a lasting and influential enterprise. Most notably Richard resisted the strong tendency in France to promote a French national banking champion, which he considered to be a vain and misguided goal. "In this global economy if we want to compete with the U.S. economy, we must promote a European champion, not a French champion," Richard told Robinson (August 1, 2001).
See also entry on Dexia Group in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Caplen, Brian, "Cross-Border Pioneer Fights On," Banker, February 1, 2004.
Robinson, Karina, "A Different Kind of European Union," Banker, August 1, 2001.