Total’s 'Big Mustache'- bon vivant, deal-maker and risk-taker

Tue Oct 21, 2014 11:46am EDT
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By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) - Christophe de Margerie, the head of French oil and gas giant Total who died when his jet crashed in Moscow, was a gregarious bon vivant with a passion for risk-taking and deal-making.

Known as "The Big Mustache" for his bushy, gray mustache, de Margerie, 63, was the most charismatic and outspoken oil executive of his generation who cultivated relationships with leaders across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

An opponent of Western economic sanctions against Russia, the Frenchman was close to President Vladimir Putin - who said on Tuesday that "Russia had lost a true friend".

There was also sadness among Gulf business partners for the loss of "Mr Middle East", along with three crew of his private jet, on Monday night.

Greeting rival business chiefs with a huge hug or networking with a glass of whisky in his hand, the burly de Margerie's gregarious nature masked an astute business sense for frontier projects and tough negotiating skills.

From a family of ambassadors and CEOs, de Margerie was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, who founded the Taittinger champagne group. This led one associate to joke that he could have been the King of Brut but opted to be the King of Crude - brut meaning both dry champagne and crude oil in French.

De Margerie oversaw Total's Middle East operations and then joined the group's exploration and production branch, the most prestigious, in 1995. He became chief executive in 2007 but his time at the top was troubled by legal problems.

De Margerie's dominance of Total means that the group may struggle to find a chief who can fill his shoes.   Continued...

Christophe de Margerie, CEO of the French oil and gas company Total SA, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris July 7, 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier