A man of action on an international scale, Pierre Ledoux was largely responsible for the practicalities of merging the operations of BNCI and CNEP to create BNP.
Pierre Ledoux was born in the French city of Bordeaux in 1914. Shortly after completing his university studies at the Paris business school HEC and subsequently in Law, he was called up to serve in the Second World War. Later he joined the Finance Ministry, where he attained the rank of Inspector of Finances in 1943. However, he resolved to join the Free French forces and made his way to Algiers via Spain. He first served in the financial administration of the provisional government, and then took part in military campaigns in France and Germany in 1944-1945, being awarded the prestigious French military decoration the Croix de Guerre.
When peace returned, he became a member of the French financial mission to the Far East, amid difficult circumstances at the beginning of the decolonisation period. He was then appointed financial attaché to the French embassy in Washington, where he worked on the implementation of the Marshall Plan.
Building the BNCI international network
In January 1951 he joined the Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) as Secretary General. At that time, BNCI was the smallest of the large deposit-taking banks which had just been nationalised, but was nevertheless the most dynamic. The bank was still not very internationally oriented, but Ledoux brought his overseas experience and affinity with faraway horizons.
In 1956 he was appointed General Manager of BNCI Afrique, where he really demonstrated his operational skills. At the time the subsidiary’s reach extended over a huge area which included the Maghreb (French-speaking North Africa), plus Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and even Canada and Panama, and it enjoyed great autonomy. The period was however marked by the political upheavals of decolonisation.
The birth of BNP
In 1963, he became Managing Director of BNCI. On 4 May 1966, the French Minister of the Economy and Finance announced that BNCI was to merge with the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP) to form Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP), which became the new number one financial institution in France. Pierre Ledoux was appointed Managing Director of BNP and would go on to be the chief architect of its success. This was helped by his excellent relationship with the Chairman of the new bank, Henry Bizot, who came from CNEP.
In order to make the merger of these two banks – which were highly complementary but had radically different company cultures – a success, Ledoux established a set of principles and set in motion initiatives which helped to ensure smooth integration at the new BNP and which later served to drive forward other large-scale plans: the merger was not to be seen as a takeover, but as a brand new bank with a new agenda; departments were speedily organised and the first projects launched; and each team was made up of staff from both constituent banks in order to engender fresh team spirit.
Opening new horizons
Ledoux remained Managing Director of BNP until 1971, and then served as Chairman until 1979. He made numerous trips abroad and sought to establish an international position for the bank commensurate with its leading role in France. During his mandate, the international network was strengthened in key areas for the bank’s future growth in Asia – in Hong Kong, Singapore, plus closer relations with China – and also in the United States, especially in California where moves to create a branch network in 1971, followed by the acquisition of Bank of the West in 1979 have borne fruit in the longer term.
He was entirely responsible for the 1973 advertising campaign under the slogan Votre argent m’intéresse (‘I’m interested in your money’), which broke a long-standing taboo in France against talking openly about money. That same year he also signed a partnership agreement with the organisers of the French Open tennis championships at Roland Garros, since which time the Group’s relationship with tennis has never ceased to grow. He retired in 1979.
He was passionate about youth, education and opening up to the international scene, and in 1997 he set up the Fondation Pierre Ledoux – jeunesse internationale (Pierre Ledoux Foundation for International Youth) to foster education for young people through visits abroad. It was a delighted Honorary Chairman who looked on as BNP Paribas was established in 2000, a move that reminded him of the boldness of the creation of BNP in 1966.