On a spring afternoon, Xavier Niel enters the boardroom of Iliad SA, the Paris-based telecommunications firm he founded two decades ago. He’s wearing a white dress shirt and jeans, the same outfit he’s sported with Steve Jobs–like regularity for years. With his longish hair and rumpled attire, he looks more like a hacker who’s blundered into the wrong office than a man who’s worth $10.5 billion.
Until last year, all of Bhanu Priya’s sales of laptop computers came from customers who climbed two floors to her store in a dilapidated New Delhi building. Now, she gets an additional 3,000 orders a month from the Internet and has hired 10 people to handle the new business.