France: I Wasn't Created to Lose Money

"At the beginning of the century," says Sylvain Floirat, 67, in the rolling accent of France's Périgord region, "when you founded a business, it was supposed to last at least two generations. Nowadays it's only a matter of a few years." Floirat has taken advantage of the change: buying and selling businesses ("Anybody can buy; knowing when to sell is another story"), he now owns 94 companies and a personal fortune of at least $100 million. And they know him at the bank. "There are only three of us on the Champs Elysées," Floirat says expansively, "who can sign a...

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