The room is empty and the door locked. A year after the death of Serge Dassault, on May 28, 2018, no one dared to take over the large office of the Patriarch, at the headquarters of the Champs-Elysées roundabout in Paris. The four children did hold a family reunion there shortly after the death. But we don’t occupy the office of founder Marcel Dassault like that. His son Serge had not taken possession of it until the age of 61. And that’s where he died thirty-two years later. The nonagenarian had done the necessary in 2015, by appointing Charles Edelstenne, his longtime lieutenant, as “successive president” of GIMD, the family holding company. The former boss of Dassault Aviation has taken over the reins in his own way: an iron fist in a horsehair glove. And the group has continued to operate at full speed for a year, on the strength of the good results of Dassault Aviation and Dassault Systèmes.
“Committee of the Wise”
But this apparent fluidity should not hide the essential: current governance is only transitory. Charles Edelstenne has four years to organize his succession at the head of GIMD, before being affected by the age limit provided for by the statutes (85 years). A CM-CIC analyst note published last February mentions a tighter schedule. Charles Edelstenne will have to “accomplish his mission within two years of the death” of the patriarch, indicates the document, ie “no later than mid-2020”. When questioned, the group ensures that it is not aware of this deadline. “Charles Edelstenne is president until 2023, in an inalienable way”, assures Rudi Roussillon, historical advisor of the group.
The famous “committee of the wise”, instituted by Serge Dassault to help select the future leader, therefore risks chomping at the bit for a moment. The areopagus of five members, which brings together the boss of Scor Denis Kessler, the former CEO of EDF Henri Proglio, the former police chief Pierre Mutz, the notary Bernard Monassier and the former boss of PSA Jean-Martin Folz , meets well every six weeks for a lunch at the “Rond-point” with Charles Eldelstenne. But the major works have not yet started. “The subject of succession has not yet been discussed, it is not the news of the day,” confirms Henri Proglio.
It must be said that Charles Edelstenne does not seem in a hurry to hand over. “He still reigns supreme, and none of the four heirs really dares to speak, for fear of his reaction”, assures a good connoisseur of the house, for whom “the first to move takes a bullet between the two eyes” . Even the eldest, Olivier Dassault, who hit the headlines in 2009 by declaring himself a candidate to succeed Serge Dassault, remains carefully in line. “I agree with Charles Edelstenne on all questions, whatever they are,” swears to Challenges the deputy Les Républicains de l’Oise.
“Compatible with the galaxy”
So who ? None of the siblings seem able to come to a consensus on his name. Relations between the heirs have always been very variable, even stormy, especially between the two elders Olivier and Laurent. It will therefore probably be necessary to look elsewhere for the future boss of the house. In the group’s subsidiaries, two names stand out: the CEO of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier, 59 years old – “the candidate of Charles Edelstenne”, assures an internal source – and the CEO of Dassault Systèmes Bernard Charlès, 62 years old. The other solution would be an outside candidate. “You need someone compatible with the Dassault galaxy, who knows the industry, like Jean-Dominique Senard,” said a familiar from the headquarters.
In his February note, the CM-CIC analyst envisaged a third solution, a real palace revolution. This would see Eric Trappier succeed Charles Edelstenne at the head of GIMD. Above all, Dassault Aviation would be acquired by its subsidiary Thales, of which it would become a division. This so-called “reverse take over” operation would give birth to a giant with a turnover of 26.5 billion euros, led by Thales CEO Patrice Caine, and of which GIMD would then have 28 , 7% of the capital. The scenario, fiercely denied by the Dassault house, caused a stir within the group. Some, a little paranoid, have even seen Patrice Caine’s paw. “Charles Edelstenne launched a witch hunt to find out where this idea came from”, we assure internally. Even distant, the succession, with the Dassault, remains a sensitive subject.
After serving Marcel Dassault for twenty years and his son Serge for the following thirty years, Charles Edelstenne succeeded him on his death on May 28, 2018. As early as 1981, this trained accountant convinced Marcel Dassault to invest by his side in the group’s 3D software activity, which has now become Dassault Systèmes. A winning bet: the company, in which Charles Edelstenne still holds 6% of the capital, is valued today at more than 36 billion euros on the stock market. At 81, Charles Edelstenne has four years to organize his succession, scheduled for 2023.
Second of the siblings, Laurent Dassault joined the family group in 1991, after eleven years in the bank. At 65, this polo and golf enthusiast now runs the family wine estate Château Dassault (Saint-Émilion grand cru), acquired by Marcel Dassault in 1955. He has also created an Argentinian grand cru in partnership with Benjamin de Rothschild. This contemporary art collector is also Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Immobilière Dassault.
He is one of the more discreet members of the clan. At 62, Thierry Dassault lives in Canada a good part of the year. This new technologies enthusiast created the TDH investment fund, which has acquired stakes in companies such as Wallix (computer security), IDnomic (ex-OpenTrust), Aquarelle or BlaBlaCar. Former boss of Dassault Multimedia, he is also a director of the Artcurial auction house.
Very discreet, the youngest of the family (54) nonetheless combines the positions of administrator: Dassault Aviation, Dassault Systèmes, BioMérieux, Artcurial and the Siparex fund. Director of sponsorship and communications for the family holding company GIMD, she also succeeded her elder Olivier in mid-2018 as chairman of the group’s supervisory board. Her husband, Benoît Habert, much appreciated by Serge Dassault, is the deputy general manager of GIMD.
Eldest son of Serge and Nicole Dassault, Olivier Dassault, 68, had created an earthquake in the group by declaring himself a candidate for the succession of his father in 2009. Quickly rebuffed, this pilot passed by the School of the air s’ was withdrawn from his mandate as deputy for Oise, in the historic constituency of his grandfather Marcel. Director of Dassault Aviation, where he was Director of Civil Aircraft Strategy, he is also a photographer and composer of music for films and commercials.