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Born into a modest family in Beauvais in 1937, Jean-Claude Decaux began working at the age of 16 putting up posters to promote his parents’ store and other local businesses. Although at 18 he was still a minor (the age of majority in France then was 21), he asked to be emancipated and he set up his own company, in 1955.

I never envisaged working for anyone other than myself because I had an impossible temperament! Jean-Claude Decaux

Before long, he began to specialise in roadside displays, until the day when a finance law introduced a cripplingly high tax on roadside advertising that made it impossible for his company to survive. The same year, 1964, he invented the advertising bus shelter and the concept of advertising street furniture, which soon caught on worldwide: to offer cities bus shelters free-of-charge, managed and maintained by his company and financed through advertising.

Jean-Claude Decaux
Jean-Claude Decaux in the 1970's

PERSUASIVE. A conqueror.

Louis Pradel, the Mayor of Lyon (France), liked his idea and his energy and was the first to grant him a contract for the installation and maintenance of 40 bus shelters. His business was underway, but the risk was huge.

I don’t sell square metres, I sell spaces that are clean and well-lit. Jean-Claude Decaux On the subject of the 2m² format which he created

In the 1970s, the company expanded outside France, introducing the bus shelter concept to Belgium first and then Portugal. In the 1980s, JCDecaux began to operate in other major European countries, such as Germany, Spain and the UK, before it opened offices in the USA in 1994. In 1999, along with his sons, Jean-Claude Decaux decided to acquire Avenir. This brought the Group into new countries and into transport systems and billboard advertising. In 2011, the Group became the number one outdoor advertising company in the world. Today, JCDecaux is present in more than 80 countries.

Jean-Claude Decaux, in Lyon (France), where everything began.  

INNOVATIVE. A visionary.

By always thinking of how best to serve the user first, he invented the smart city concept before its time. From the 1970s, in order to improve the quality of life and the visual amenity of cities, Jean-Claude Decaux began to create street furniture that would enhance everyday life: sign posts, street furniture displaying information, electronic information panels, automatic public toilets.

Outdoor advertising can only last if it offers two services, one is the provision of information to the public, and the second is the bus shelter service, or the telephone kiosk service, or any other service that I may not have imagined but that my colleagues or rivals might imagine. Jean-Claude Decaux 1977 interview

After Vienna in Austria, Cordoba and Gijon in Spain, in 2005 he established the first self-service bicycle hire scheme in France in the city of Lyon, which revolutionised city mobility. In Paris in 2007, the largest self-service bicycle hire scheme in the world was established. Today, the Cyclocity concept has been adopted in 76 cities.

Jean-Claude Decaux during the Villo! inauguration in Bruxelles, in 2009

AESTHETE. A passionate man.

Keen on creating an attractive urban environment, from the 1990s he began to work with some of the world’s most prestigious architects and designers, including Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Norman Foster, Philip Cox, Martin Szekely, Mario Bellini, Philippe Starck and Patrick Jouin, to give true significance and an aesthetic quality to street furniture.

My whole career has been driven by a constant desire for excellence, a strong emphasis on design, and an obsession with always, always using our advertising-based business to serve the community. Jean-Claude Decaux Foreword of the book "JCDecaux - 50 years of passion and innovation"

He invested passionately in his company, always striving for perfection and adopting the motto “Only the best will do”. It is reflected in the inscription on a wall of the Group's headquarters in Plaisir (France): “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well”.

Jean-Claude Decaux passed on his values and expertise to his sons and to his 11,200 employees, who in more than 80 countries, 3,573 cities, more than 153 airports and 215 transport companies worldwide, now work to continue his entrepreneurship in line with his founding principles.

In 2014, the 547 senior managers from the 61 countries out of which JCDecaux operated at this time met in Paris to celebrate the Group's 50th anniversary.