Bloomberg Billionaires Index

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#170 Xavier Niel $8.53B

Random fact: Labeled a "gypsy" by rival French billionaire Martin Bouygues.


Niel is the founder and largest shareholder of Iliad, a Paris-based telecommunications services provider. The company's subsidiaries include Free, which had 6.5 million broadband customers and almost 13 million mobile subscribers, as of March 2017. It reported revenue of 4.7 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in 2016.

As of July 23, 2017:
Last change +$8.46M (+0.1%)
YTD change +$1.81B (+27.0%)
Industry Technology
Biggest asset ILD FP Equity
Citizenship France
Age 49
Wealth Self-made
View net worth over:   Max 1 year 1 quarter 1 month 1 week

Relative Value

Xavier Niel's net worth of $8.53B can buy ...

troy ounces of gold
barrels of crude oil

... and is equivalent to ...

of the GDP of the United States
of the total wealth of the 500 richest people in the world
of the top 100 U.S. college endowments
of the top 200 U.S. executives’ total awarded compensation
of U.S. existing home sales
times the median U.S. household income

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Net Worth Summary

Private asset
Public asset
Misc. liabilities
Confidence rating:

The majority of Niel's fortune is derived from his 54 percent stake in Iliad, a publicly traded French telecommunications company. His stake is confirmed in Iliad's 2016 annual report. Free, a division of Iliad, had 6.5 million broadband subscribers and 12.9 million mobile subscribers as of March 31, 2017, according to a May 18, 2017 press release.

Niel's Paris-based holding company NJJ Capital bought mobile operator Orange Switzerland for 2.8 billion Swiss francs ($2.9 billion) in December 2014 before it was renamed Salt Mobile. He also spent $445 million to acquire a 55 percent stake in Monaco Telecom in April 2014. Both of these assets are valued at investment cost.

Liabilities are based on the costs of these purchases. The value of his cash investments is based on an analysis of dividends, market performance, insider transactions, taxes and charitable contributions.

The billionaire also owns one-third of a majority stake in the French daily newspaper Le Monde, which he acquired with partners in 2010. The asset is valued at its investment cost, as is his 50 percent stake in L'Apogee, a luxury hotel in Courchevel. 

He also controls investment fund Kima Ventures, which invests in 50 to 100 companies a year, and owns the music publishing catalog of French singer Claude Francois, the writer who wrote the original French version of the song "My Way," made famous by Frank Sinatra. These assets aren't included in his net worth calculation. People familiar with the catalog, who asked not to be named because the matter is private, said the value is nominal relative to Niel's total fortune.

Niel declined to comment on his net worth.


Birthdate: 8/25/1967
Family: Single, 3 children

Xavier Niel was born in Creteil, France, on Aug. 25, 1967, to a father who studied law and medicine and a mother who supported the family as an accountant. He began his career at age 16, when he dropped out of high school and created chat services for Minitel, a French precursor to the World Wide Web.

That business led Niel to create a number of companies, including some for sex chat service Minitel Rose. He sold most of them in 1997, with the exception of two peep shows, one in Paris and one in Strasbourg. Holding on to them proved troublesome seven years later, when French police raided his apartment and jailed him pending charges for pimping and tax evasion. He was fined 250,000 euros for non-declared earnings and cleared of the procurement charges, avoiding a two-year prison sentence.

Niel bought Fermic Multimedia in 1991, a company specialized in software for Minitel that was on the verge of bankruptcy. He used it to create 3617 Annu, the first online reverse directory that allowed Minitel users to find the names attached to telephone numbers. He invested in Worldnet two years later, the first French internet service provider and sold his stake seven years later for 40 million euros.

The billionaire introduced Free in 1999, an Internet service provider that had quick success by providing customers with an access modem for free, and charging for a discounted dial-up internet service. Free is now France's second-largest Internet service provider. He expanded Free's business by creating Freebox, the first set-top box to provide telephone, Internet and television through one service in 2002. Iliad, the parent company of Free, listed on the Paris stock exchange in January 2004.

Niel introduced the company's first mobile telephone service in 2012. The service offered unlimited calls and data for 20 euros a month and a two euro plan that included two hours of calls and data a month. Free has over 6.1 million broadband subscribers and over 11.7 million mobile subscribers as of March 15, 2016.

He joined an investment partnership that acquired two-thirds of French daily newspaper Le Monde in 2010. He formed Kima Ventures, an angel investment fund which invests in 50 to 100 start-ups per year. He also owns the music publishing catalog of French singer Claude Francois, who wrote the single "Comme d'habitude," its melody made famous by Frank Sinatra with his translated version, "My Way."

Xavier Niel launched 42, a free information technology university aimed at training 1,000 developers a year, in March 2013. He announced the launch in 2016 of the world's largest digital incubator, six months later. It will be based at the Halle Freyssinet in Paris.

Niel lives in Paris. He is dating Delphine Arnault, daughter of French billionaire Bernard Arnault, according to W Magazine.

  • 1967 Born in a Paris suburb to a law student father and accountant mother.
  • 1983 Drops out of high school and creates Minitel chat services.
  • 1993 Makes first investment in Worldnet, the first French internet service provider.
  • 1999 Introduces Free, a discount Internet service provider.
  • 2002 The Freebox is unveiled, Iliad's first "triple-play" service.
  • 2013 Launches 42, a free IT school aimed at training 1,000 developers a year.
  • 2014 Makes $15 billion bid for T-Mobile's U.S. mobile unit.
  • 2014 Agrees to buy Orange Switzerland for $2.9 billion.