BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : JANUARY 10, 2000 ISSUE
COVER STORY

Total's Empire Builder


KEY ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Acquired rival French oil company Elf Aquitaine for $44 billion

Shares up about 35% in '99, as profits expected to grow 20%, to $3.1 billion
Until THIERRY DESMAREST began playing in the oil patch, the term ''Big Oil'' was reserved for giant American and British players such as Exxon, Texaco, or BP. Continental Europeans couldn't compete. They were just too small.

Now, thanks to a series of brilliant strategic moves, 54-year-old Desmarest has made Paris-based TotalFina (TOT) a real contender. Last July, Desmarest astounded the oil industry--and the clubby world of French big business--with a $44 billion hostile bid for oil group Elf Aquitaine. Coming on the heels of the $12 billion acquisition in early 1999 of Belgium's Petrofina, the deal with Elf transforms Total into the world's fourth-largest oil and gas company.

Not bad for a courteous and soft-spoken engineer known in the company as ''le Petit Prince.'' Desmarest earned his laurels far from the industrial elite in Paris. In countries such as Venezuela and Algeria, he added huge amounts of cheap oil and gas reserves to Total's inventory as head of exploration and production. Then, within weeks of becoming CEO in 1995, Desmarest inked a landmark deal in Tehran making Total the first foreign oil company to produce in Iran since 1979.

What's next for Desmarest? He's moving quickly to quell the public outcry following a big oil spill off the coast of France, and will likely be on the prowl again before long. Wherever he strikes next, Desmarest wants to be top dog in Europe. Big Oil, make room for one more.



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