Pierre Louis-Dreyfus

Pierre Louis-Dreyfus

17/5/1908

Pierre Louis-Dreyfus was born in Paris in the 8th district. His father was a ship-owner.

He raced under various 'noms de volant', including 'Ferret, Heldé (Heldé is the phonetic spelling, in French, of his initials L.D.) and Ano-Nyme.

In 1928 he was called up for military service until his discharge in 1929 when he joined the family shipping business.

In 1930 he finished 4th in a Bugatti at the Spa 24h, together with his brother-in-law René Schumann. Later he raced Alfa Romeos and was 2nd at Le Mans 1935 in an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 with Henri Stoffel.

Bought two of the new Delahaye 135 CS sports cars in 1936 but did not use them as he became a semi-works driver for Talbot. He finished 3rd in the Grand Prix De La Marne Reims-Gueux in JUly, followed by second in the Grand Prix Comminges St Gaudens in August. At the Grand Prix De L'UMF he was disqualified for receiving a push start.

In 1939 at Le Mans he failed to finish in a Talbot. Racing was then put on hold due to the war.

Recalled to the military again in 1939 he received two citations in Luxembourg and in France. But after the defeat of France, he joined the Resistance in 1941 with Colonel Vautrin opperating in the south of France.

He escaped from France via Spain on December 18, 1942. He flew to Ireland via Lisbon in a seaplane, before finally arriving in England in January 1943.

He joined the 1st Free French Division in Africa where he acted as a Liaison officer for the 51st Division Scotish Highlanders.

In January 1944, he became a machine gunner in bombers with the Free French Air Force and carried out 81 missions over Belgium, Holland and Germany, totaling up 185.5 hours of flight time.

He finished the war with the rank of captain.

He returned to civil life in shipping and banker, becoming Chairman (1967-1975), then Vice-president (since 1975) of the Louis-Dreyfus Company and Co.

Osca did not enter Le Mans until 1952, when the Torinese chemist Dott. Mario Damonte commissioned a most beautiful Vignale coupe body to be fitted to an MT4 chassis. This ran in the 1500cc class with a 1342cc motor, and led its class by a huge margin until its clutch failed at Arnage Corner.

For 1953 Dott Damonte had the nose of the car modified to a more conventional shape and driving with Louis-Dreyfus and running a 1092cc engine, they proceeded to win the 1100cc class with ease, coming 18th overall at an average speed of 80.96 mph.

At Le Mans in 1954 he drove the Automobiles Deutch et Bonnet Renault with Leon Dernier but DNF due to gearbox failure after just two hours.

He returned in 1955 in a Ferrari 750 Monza with Jean Lucas but again failed to finish due to ignition problems.

His son Gerard Louis-Dreyfus was a child in 1940 when his American mother returned home after she divorced Pierre. By the time WWII ended, Gerard Louis-Dreyfus was an all-American boy who called himself William and turned his back on all things French. He graduated from Duke University and its law school and went to work in 1959 at New York's Dewey, Ballantine firm.

In 1965 Pierre appealed to his son to save the family firm. Family ties prevailed. He was in the top spot in 1969 when he was 37. In France he called himself Gerard. In the U.S. he was still William.

Under William/Gerard, the nerve center of the Louis-Dreyfus empire shifted to New York, although the company remains incorporated under French law. Ownership is divided evenly between cousins Jean Louis-Dreyfus and Pierre, both 88. Jean's brother, Francois, died in 1959.

William/Gerard is an intriguing personality. As American as Jimmy Stewart, as French as Maurice Chevalier. "He's a chameleon," says Robert Siebel, a former commodities banker at J.P. Morgan who worked with Louis-Dreyfus. "He goes from one place to the other and just blends in."

He recently bought into the New York startup of England's weekly Time Out cultural guide. He teaches poetry classes twice a week at a high school in Harlem and serves as a trustee of the Poetry Society of America. "It's been a long time," he says of his three decades at Louis-Dreyfus. He may be the last of his line to run the firm.

His pride and joy is his daughter Julia, 33, a charming comedienne who stars in the hit sitcom Seinfeld. She and her father are very close, but follow him into business? No way. "The last thing that Dad would talk about at dinner was business," says Julia Louis-Dreyfus. "I never had a head for it."

There's William/Gerard's cousin Robert Louis-Dreyfus, Jean's son. He revived the ailing German footwear maker Adidas, pocketing over $500 million when he floated it. Robert says he will never work at the family firm under any circumstances.

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