Hugues Mulliez is making a name for himself in telecoms in Africa

In business, being called Mulliez should make you a winner. So when an heir to the Auchan, Leroy-Merlin or Decathlon brands fails, it causes a sensation. At the end of 2012, Surcouf, the chain of stores that promised to revolutionize computing, noisily flowed, taking with it nearly 400 employees and 150 million euros in turnover. “Liquidation of Surcouf: the failure of a child of the Mulliez galaxy”, headlined, in October 2012, The voice of the Norththe daily newspaper of the North, region of origin of the family of great merchants. In a clan that cultivates its discretionwe do not like this kind of headlines.

Hugues Mulliez took years to recover from this personal failure. Its assets, involved in the takeover of Surcouf from the Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR) group in 2009, suffered from bankruptcy. His self-esteem too. Young – he was 37 when Surcouf fell – and self-taught – he learned the trade on the shelves of Leroy-Merlin or Auchan –, the great-nephew of Gérard Mulliez, patriarch of the Mulliez Family Association (AFM), learns a lesson: even with this name, no one gives you a gift.

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On the contrary. “The impertinence of Surcouf’s new model, which promised in-store Internet prices, was difficult for the competition to accept. I had underestimated the political impact of this change”, recalls Hugues Mulliez, when we meet him, at the end of August, in Paris. Even Boulanger, the Mulliez’s electronics brand, did not play the family rope to come to the aid of his cousin Surcouf. Business is business.

Development of an electronic wallet

Hugues Mulliez then chose the anonymity of Africa to bounce back. Since 2018, he has been co-shareholder and chairman of Telecel Group, an African telecom company, whose main asset is Telecel Centrafrique, the country’s number one telecom operator. He wanted to take advantage of Africa’s lead in mobile phone payments to develop a new idea that he has been nurturing for several years: a wallet (“e-wallet”), which combines payments and e-commerce.

The meeting with Laurent Foucher will allow him to take the plunge. The merger of the companies of the two men will give birth, in 2018, and with their two respective partners, Mohamad Damush and Nicolas Bourg, to Telecel Group. A French businessman based in Switzerland, Laurent Foucher has been exploring Africa for years. For example, he advised the French group Maurel & Prom, between 2002 and 2009, in its African oil explorations. The man has an important network in the Central African Republic, a country for which he was ambassador in Geneva.

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