• France's news in English

Total's 'Big Moustache': Not your average oil exec

AFP · 21 Oct 2014, 10:46

Published: 21 Oct 2014 10:46 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Christophe de Margerie had a penchant for cracking a joke, which with his bushy moustache and stout form made him come across more as someone's favourite uncle than the oil executive who fiercely led the often controversial petroleum giant Total.

But the jolly business chief, who died in a plane accident in Russia on Tuesday aged 63, deftly steered Europe's third-largest oil company through corruption charges and restructuring in his seven years at the helm.

Affectionately nicknamed "Big Moustache" by staff for his distinctive facial hair, De Margerie took the reins of the company in 2007 after serving as company number two since 1999.

His appointment was the logical step for a man who had spent his entire 40-year career at Total, culminating with his appointment as chairman in 2010.

He arrived at the top of the company at a period darkened by judicial woes, such as the 2010 conviction for negligence over an environmental disaster caused by the 1999 shipwreck of the Erika oil tanker on France's Atlantic coast

And shortly after being appointed as chief executive, De Margerie found himself handcuffed and in custody for over 24 hours over charges of corruption in deals with Iran.

He was also implicated in allegations of corruption during the UN's "oil-for-food" programme in Iraq which led to eight years of court procedures in Paris which ended when he and all other accused were found not guilty in 2013.

A blunt talker

In the slick business world he was known for his frankness and responded without qualms to criticism against the company, from their operations in Myanmar to backing of fracking, the controversial drilling process to obtain natural gas.

"Most people, when they speak of Total do not know what it is, but know it is not good," he said in 2009.

Despite the scandals, under his guidance, Total sped up its investments in oil exploration to reach ambitious growth targets while restructuring its activities in France, including closing its Dunkirk refinery in 2010.

The bespectacled De Margerie was known as a warm leader, open to debate who "handles humour in high doses, while still remaining strong and determined," said a colleague.

Born on August 6, 1951, De Margerie grew up in a family of diplomats and business leaders. He was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, founder of Taittinger champagne and the luxury goods dynasty.

He joined the company after graduating from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Paris in 1974, slowly making his way up the ladder until 1995 when he was appointed president of Total in the Middle East.

Story continues below…

His experience in this role earned him a reputation as an outstanding negotiator and connoisseur of a strategic region for an oil company.

"One of his great strengths was knowing how to create and maintain strong personal ties with the leaders of these countries," said a colleague when De Margerie took over as CEO.

"He increased the number of face-to-face meetings, trips, and developed the face of the company in the region."

De Margerie was married with three children.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available