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Thierry Breton

Don't be fooled by his cherubic smile and curly mop of hair. With steely discipline, 46-year-old Thierry Breton has dragged French consumer electronics company Thomson Multimedia (TMS) away from death's door. Before he took the helm in 1997, Thomson was such a wreck that the French government almost gave it away to Daewoo Corp. for one franc.

Today, Thomson is outperforming bigger rivals Sony (SNE), Matsushita (MC), and Philips (PHG). While their profits plunged last year, Thomson posted 70% earnings growth, to $350 million, on sales of nearly $9 billion. Thomson expects double-digit earnings growth this year, too. "We didn't just survive, we are reinventing the company," Breton says.

Indeed. He has already made Thomson the world's No. 1 producer of digital set-top boxes. Now, he's pushing into digital imaging gear and interactive TV--ventures not expected to be profitable before 2003. But with Breton in charge, Thomson looks set to stay in the game.

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