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.
Anyone who has survived a marathon phone session with an Internet service provider knows the frustration, not to mention the elevated stress level, associated with today’s automated world. In many cases, customer service has been supplanted by do-it-yourself phone menus and websites. In some cases, do-it-yourself beats doing it with a real person.