Is Frankrijk nou echt zo’n vastgeroeste, conservatieve economie? Welnee, vindt ondernemer Xavier Niel, de ‘Franse Steve Jobs’. Hij tovert een oud Parijs treinstation om tot “de grootste start-up-broedplaats ter wereld.”
The stage is set in the middle of the vast, empty and decidedly cold shed of the Halle Freyssinet, a building formerly used as a shipment hub for trains and trucks near the Austerlitz railway station in Paris.
After the presidential lectern is installed, with French and European flags in the background, in comes … not President François Hollande, but Xavier Niel, founder of the Internet service provider and mobile operator Iliad. Some have dubbed the 47-year-old entrepreneur the French Steve Jobs.
“I’m sorry, Mr. President,” Niel quips with a smile. ”I took your place.”
The joke amuses the audience, which includes two government cabinet ministers and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Niel, who wants to turn the building into the “world’s largest digital business incubator,” entertains no presidential aspirations and describes himself as an apolitical non-voter. But the banter is yet another sign of his growing influence within both the French economy and society at large.
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