Serge Dassault, patriarch of aircraft empire, dies at 93

Mr Serge Dassault's fortune is worth US$27.3 billion, making him the world's 28th wealthiest man.
Mr Serge Dassault's fortune is worth US$27.3 billion, making him the world's 28th wealthiest man.

PARIS • Billionaire businessman and politician Serge Dassault, who inherited an aviation empire from his World War I aircraft-designer father, has died. He was 93.

He succumbed on Monday to heart failure in his office in Paris, said a spokesman for Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault. He was chairman of the group.

One of two sons born to aviation legend Marcel Dassault and his wife Madeleine Minckes, Mr Dassault forged a name as a fierce guardian of the family's businesses and an outspoken conservative politician.

Though he expanded the family's business interests into real estate, auction houses and media, he had to contend with critical comparisons to his powerful father. The senior Mr Dassault founded the family's main firm, Paris-based aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, maker of the Rafale military plane and the Falcon corporate jet.

"France has lost a man who dedicated his life to developing a jewel of French industry," French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Mr Dassault was born Serge Bloch in Paris on April 4, 1925. His father invented a type of propeller used by the French army during WWI.

After starting his own aircraft manufacturing firm in 1936, Mr Marcel Dassault was well-positioned to supply planes to the military at the outbreak of World War II.

During the war, the Bloch family, which was of Jewish heritage, was arrested by the Gestapo and stripped of its property. In 1944, Mr Marcel Dassault was deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp and held as a political hostage. He was released in April 1945 when the camp was liberated.

After his release, he changed the family name to Dassault, which is derived from the word for "assault" in French.

Mr Serge Dassault joined the family business in 1951 after graduating from a prestigious engineering school but only after his father's death in 1986 did he take over as Dassault Groupe chief executive.

A member of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, he was elected mayor of the Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonne in 1995. In 2004, he became a UMP senator. A champion of conservative economic policies, he attacked the French tax system as punishing to entrepreneurs.

His fortune is worth US$27.3 billion (S$36.8 billion), which makes him the world's 28th wealthiest man, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

"We won't see any more big bosses like him: determined, very endearing, a little cunning, patriotic," Ms Laurence Parisot, former head of business lobby Medef, said in a tweet. "He not only made his father's work prosperous but opened his group to modernity."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'Serge Dassault, patriarch of aircraft empire, dies at 93'. Print Edition | Subscribe