The bank for a changing world

When Jean Reyre (1899-1989) steered Paribas into a new dimension

  • 18.04.2016

Imaginative, man of action and conviction, Jean Reyre makes of Paris a major bank, at an industrial scale. After the Second World War, and for over 20 years, he gives an international dimension to Paribas, boosting French –made capital equipment and industrial projects abroad, among others. 

In the footsteps of Horace Finaly

Born in 1899, Jean Reyre fought in the First World War. He then obtained a first degree from the prestigious French political science institute generally knowns as ‘Sciences Po’ and a second degree in Law. He joined the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas in 1924, recruited by Horace Finaly, the dynamic chief executive of the Bank in the inter-war years. Rising through the ranks, he was appointed Managing Director in 1948 and served in this post for almost 20 years.

Paribas becomes an industrial investment bank

During his tenure, Jean Reyre became closely involved in the reconstruction of French industry, which had become largely outdated during a 15-year period of economic crisis followed by war. In the late 1940s, the Marshall Plan was having beneficial effects on France’s industry. Paribas’ contribution to the renewal process was to take stakes in companies and pursue a dynamic policy of building strong industrial groups in priority sectors, including steelmaking (Usinor, Châtillon Commentry), engineering (founding Fives-Lille-Cail and strengthening Stein and Roubaix), electronics (setting up SEMA and supporting Bull), energy and oil & gas (setting up oil exploration and production companies such as Finarep and Generep).

Restoring the Bank’s international role

During the 1950s, Reyre helped to revive exports of French-made capital equipment and industrial projects abroad, such as the steelworks at Paz del Rio in Colombia and Chimbote in Peru. Reviving the Bank’s traditional relations with the United States, he opened representative offices in New York (1960) and also London (1964), followed by Luxembourg. Thus Paribas regained an international position comparable to the pre-First World War days.

A banker with vision

Jean Reyre was noted for his imagination, intuition and non-conformist attitude, coupled with sound practical business sense. Like his predecessor Finaly, he had friends on both the left and the right of the political spectrum.  He was behind the establishment in 1948 of the European Banking Committee that included representatives of Swiss, Belgian, Dutch and Italian banks, a visionary move for which he enjoyed the support of Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Union.

Reyre became Chairman of Paribas in 1966, before stepping down and handing over to Jacques de Fouchier in late 1969, following a controversial attempt to take over financial services group Crédit Industriel et Commercial (CIC).