PARIS (Reuters) - French billionaire Vincent Bollore, who was being questioned by police on Tuesday over allegations related to port concessions in Africa, has turned family-owned Groupe Bollore (BOLL.PA) into an international conglomerate in 37 years at the helm.
The Brittany-based maker of high-quality thin papers used in printing and publishing that he inherited in the early 1980s has become an 18.3 billion-euro (16 billion pounds) global group with a Paris listing and 80,000 employees.
The 66-year-old, a friend to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and several African leaders, has said he would hand control of the group to his four children in February 2022, the year of his 70th birthday and the bicentenary of the company.
Bollore’s transport and logistics arm, built up through successive acquisitions and investments since the 1990s, delivered most of the group’s operating profits in the past two decades. It generated 7.9 billion euros of revenue in 2017.
The division, headed by one of Bollore’s three sons, Cyrille, is particularly active in West Africa, where its subsidiary employs 25,000 people.
Bollore Africa Logistics operates 16 container ports in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Gabon, Benin, Congo, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Togo and Comoros.
The company runs rail services in Cameroon, Benin and Ivory Coast and also has investments in oil and gas projects, agro-industry, telecoms and the pharmaceutical sector.
In addition, it is active in oil logistics, including the distribution and storage of fuel and oil products in France, Germany and Switzerland.
With annual sales of more than 10 billion euros, the communications business overtook transport and logistics as Bollore’s top revenue earner after the accounts of France’s Vivendi (VIV.PA) were consolidated into the group balance sheet.
Bollore became the biggest investor in the media giant in 2014 and now owns 20 percent of Vivendi, the owner of pay-TV group Canal Plus and the world’s biggest music label Universal Music Group. Bollore controls Vivendi thanks to a French law giving double voting rights to long-term shareholders.
The media company absorbed Havas in 2017, when Bollore sold its 60 percent controlling stake in the advertising firm in a deal worth 3.9 billion euros.
Another of Bollore’s sons, Yannick, replaced his father as Vivendi’s chairman last week.
The smallest division by turnover, the energy storage unit generated 311 million euros in revenues last year but Bollore sees huge potential. The billionaire is a proponent of battery technology, which is used by the Autolib electric car sharing service that Bollore operates in Paris and other French cities.
Bollore’s batteries are produced by the group’s wholly-owned factories in Europe. The division also produces plastic film for capacitors and ultra-thin film for packaging.
Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Edmund Blair