How Frédéric Oudéa Came To Oversee One Of France's Largest Banks

Frederic Oudea

Photo: AP

This is part of our series on The Sexiest CEOs Alive.Frédéric Oudéa, the CEO of French bank Société Générale, came from a well-to-do Parisian family and elite French schools.

But after enduring a personal tragedy when he was just 13 years old, he quickly learned to step up and manage crises—a skill which has served him well today in his role as CEO.

Oudéa has a healthy ability to hobnob with the French elite and a cool, calculated self-confidence necessary to guide a 150,000-employee bank through an era of punishing cutbacks.

Now, when he’s not playing tennis or adding to his Flemish art collection, he’s trying to weather Europe’s austerity wave and lobby for the Eurozone.

Oudea was born into a well-to-do family, but he lost his father when he was 13.

Frédéric Oudéa was born in Paris in 1963. His father Paul was a respected medical professor, but died when Frédéric was 13 years old. As a teenager, Oudéa became the man of the family, charged with taking care of his two younger brothers.

Oudéa was profoundly affected by the experience of losing his father, according to the French magazine Libération. 'Life taught me that fate can switch quickly. And it can force you to take responsibility earlier than you're planning,' Oudéa told the magazine.

He attended some of France's most prestigious schools, putting him on a path well-traveled by the country's top leaders.

Originally, Oudéa wanted to be a surgeon--his grandfather, father and uncle were all doctors--but he soon opted to follow a path taken by France's top leaders.

After graduating from the prestigious Louis-le-Grand high school near the Sorbonne, he moved on to study engineering at the École Polytechnique near Paris. The prestigious school is simply known as 'X,' after the mathematical variable, among France's banking elite.

Source: Reuters

He soon joined future presidents and business leaders at France's National Administration School.

As one of Polytechnique's top graduates, Oudéa was admitted to France's National Administration School. The school's attendees are nicknamed 'Enarques.' Many of France's future presidents and business leaders attended this school.

Source: Reuters

He backpacked around the world with Stéphane Richard.

During his time at the National Administration School, Oudéa backpacked across Canada, Burma and Nepal with Stéphane Richard, Christine Lagarde's former chief of staff and current president of France Telecom.

'Unlike some bankers away from the field, Frédéric really has his hands under the hood,' Richard told

His early years as a French civil servant included a stint as Nicolas Sarkozy's adviser.

After completing his studies, Oudéa worked in the economic sector of the French civil service from 1987 to 1995. This included a stint as technical adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French Minister of Budget and Communication.

Source: Bloomberg

Oudea started his career at Société Générale in 1995 and quickly rose up the ranks.

He joined Société Générale (SocGen) in 1995 as the head of SocGen's corporate banking arm in London. His rapid rise to the top was nearly complete when he was named deputy CFO in 2003.

Source: Bloomberg

The CEO before him stepped down amid the financial crisis and a €4.9 billion trading scandal.

At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, SocGen incurred €4.9 billion in losses and, fairly or unfairly, blamed it on a rogue trade, Jerome Kerviel. (Kerviel told investigators that his trading behaviour was widespread at the company and that the losses were caused by widespread panic selling by SocGen.)

Amid the scandal, SocGen's chief at the time, Daniel Bouton, was forced out and replaced by Oudéa.

Source: France 24

He was chosen to lead the bank in May 2008.

When the dust settled from the scandal, Oudéa was tapped to lead the company and has been in charge ever since as CEO and board chairman.

Oudéa employed the crisis management skills he learned as a teenager, after his father's death, to lead the bank out of the wreckage.

Although he did not marry the mother of his first two children, he did wed in July 2006.

Oudéa had two children with Véronique Morali, a technocrat in the Inspection of Finance, but did not marry her.

In 2006, he married Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, a senior executive at the French global insurance firm AXA who is 15 years his junior.

He's an avid collector of Dutch and Flemish art and loves sports.

According to Reuters, Oudéa is a fan of tennis, soccer and skiing.

He's also an avid art collector with a keen interest in 16th- and 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting.

Behind his knack for adventure, lies a cool and calculating personality.

According to Libération, Oudéa tries to project an image of cool and is the only French bank executive who works with the door open.

Cori Nicolas writes:

'Stuck in a job that inflicts a duty of sadness, he handles himself with dexterity to avoid the questions that anger him, repeating the same sentences to convince people that his ideas are right. His way of expressing himself includes a vision of human relations where everything is subordinate to adventure.'

He had to make sure SocGen met capital requirements imposed by Basel III, but says the worst of the cutbacks have passed.

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