Bloomberg News

New Paris Tech School to Combat Hollande’s Focus on Past

March 27, 2013

French mobile-phone entrepreneur Xavier Niel is opening a new technology school in Paris to spawn the likes of Facebook Inc. and Google Inc.

The school, called 42.fr -- in a nod to the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” where the number makes a central appearance -- will be free and seek to groom young whizzes to stimulate the market for developers, the co-founder of Iliad SA (ILD), who never went to college himself, said in an interview on i-Tele today.

The move is aimed at attacking dwindling innovation in France and addressing a trend of rising unemployment that the government of President Francois Hollande seems unable to halt, Niel said. While France’s unemployment rate stands at 10.6 percent, employers are unable to find adequately technologically qualified people, he said.

“We are the world’s fifth-richest country and yet the 20th in information technology, which is an indicator of the decline to come,” Niel said. “The government is focusing on saving jobs in industries of the past, rather than creating jobs for the future.”

French jobless claims rose for a 22nd straight month in February as a stalled economy prompted companies to pare payrolls, the Labor Ministry said yesterday. The increase, propelled by firings at companies such as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT:US) and Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), brings the number of claimants to just shy of the record 3.196 million in January 1997.

Hollande has said he aims to reverse the trend of job losses by the end of the year.

A Maverick

Niel’s school will be based in the 17th arrondissement of Paris and will open in November, he said.

“We’ll throw the students in at the deep end and see who has the capacity, the capability, the desire and the drive to make it,” Niel said.

Niel is something of a maverick in France. In a country where most top executives come from France’s Grandes Ecoles, or elite schools, Niel is a self-made billionaire, whose success as an entrepreneur came without family money or a university education. His aggressive price-competition strategies have pulled down what consumers pay for mobile-phone and Internet services in France.

The executive started by creating sex-chat services and invested in porn shops. In May 2004, just months after Iliad’s initial public offering, he was investigated after one of the stores was found to be involved in prostitution. He was exonerated from the charges and paid a fine.

With his school project, the executive says he aims to bring out and hone the strengths of the French to pull the country out of its current morass.

“When we focus on the past for solutions rather than the future, we’re in trouble,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vidya Root in Paris at vroot@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Foxwell at sfoxwell@bloomberg.net


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