Born: Feb. 10, 1928
Died: Mar. 14, 2003
Jean-Luc Lagardère was a leader in France’s aerospace industry and the creator of an international media and defense industry conglomerate.
Lagardère was born in the rural southwest of France in 1928 and raised by his grandparents. He obtained a degree in electrical engineering in Paris and began his career in 1952 as an engineer at Avions Marcel Dassault. In 1963, he moved from Dassault to run a competing aerospace company, Matra. Both Dassault and Matra built the aircraft that powered France’s postwar military.
By the 1970s, France had scaled back much of its colonial presence, and Lagardère, seeing a decline in government procurement, decided move Matra away from military technology. He developed its space exploration and satellite technology arm and then made a deal with automaker Renault to build a line of cars.
In the 1980s, Lagardère feared that France’s Socialist government would nationalize defense manufacturers. He decided to invest in a global media empire, acquiring the publisher Hachette. Advertising revenues were falling, however, and Lagardère decided to use Matra’s cash flow to bolster Hachette’s fortunes.
In the early 1990s, Lagardère made the costly decision to buy television station La Cinq. This venture failed, ending his efforts to turn his company into a global media empire on the level of News Corporation or Time Warner.
Nevertheless, by the late 1990s, Lagardère’s fortunes turned decisively when he helped broker the creation of the massive, unified European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, or EADS. It merged aircraft and missile-maker Aerospatiale with Matra and the aerospace business of Germany’s DaimlerChrysler and Spain’s Casa to create the world’s biggest aerospace company after Boeing. EADS developed the Airbus series of commercial jets, which has gradually eroded Boeing’s market share.
John Tagliabue, "Jean-Luc Lagardère, 75, Executive, Dies; Founded an Aerospace and Media Empire," NY Times, 16 Mar 2003.