Childhood & Early Life
Jean Todt was born on February 25, 1946, in Pierrefort, a small village located in the Auvergne region of France. His father was a Jew who had arrived in France from Poland at the age of 17, during the Second World War.
In France, Jean’s father worked as a doctor. He wanted Jean to follow in his footsteps. However, Jean was not interested in medicine. He was a sports car enthusiast ever since he was a child.
Jean attended the ‘École Des Cadres’ (also known as the ‘École des Dirigeants et Créateurs d'Entreprise,’ or ‘EDC’), a business school in Paris. However, Jean spent all his spare time at the ‘Madeleine’ garage in Paris, tuning cars along with his friends. During those formative years, his interest in rallies and cars intensified.
He graduated from the business school in 1966. His fascination with motor sports led him to aim for a career in the same domain. He was heavily inspired by legends such as Jim Clark and Dan Gurney.
During the early phases of his career, he used his family car, a ‘Mini Cooper,’ to venture into rallies. He knew that he could benefit as a rally driver by partnering with another driver.
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Jean Todt participated in his first rally in 1966, partnering with Guy Chasseuil. Jean was first noticed for his impeccable skills in navigations, calculations, and strategies. After he entered the rally track, he became one of the most sought-after young navigators in the local arena.
Within the first year of entering the track, he partnered with some of the biggest names in the game, such as Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Rauno Aaltonen, Hannu Mikkola, and Guy Fréquelin. He also enjoyed a great deal of success while partnering with Jean-François Piot, Ove Andersson, Achim Warmbold, and Jean-Claude Lefèbvre.
After participating in several world championships in the following years, Jean won the ‘World Rally Championship,’ partnering with Guy Fréquelin, in 1981. Driving a ‘Talbot’ car, he won the championship and was the first runner-up in the drivers’ segment in the same championship.
Just when his racing career was starting to pick up pace, he became disinterested in the track. He developed a keen interest in the managerial aspects of the sport and tried getting involved with the ‘FIA.’
By the early 1980s, Jean had decided to leave his career as a co-driver behind, as he got into the good books of ‘Peugeot’s CEO, Jean Boillot. Boillot hired Jean as the director of racing for his company. When Jean joined the French car manufacturer, it was facing severe financial troubles and image problems. For the next 3 years, after taking the charge of the company as the director of racing, Jean worked hard and attempted to regain ‘Peugeot’s former glory.
The company ended up winning two consecutive manufacturers’ ‘World Rally Championship’ titles, in 1985 and 1986. After working with ‘Peugeot’ for 7 more years, Jean decided to quit the company.
He was hired by the CEO of ‘Scuderia Ferrari’ in 1993. He handled the post of the general manager of the racing division of the company and had four hundred personnel working under him. He also became the first non-Italian to achieve the hugely respected post in the company.
Jean was hired at a time when ‘Ferrari’ had drifted away from its glorious days. They had not won any drivers’ championship since 1979, and Jean’s arrival was a ray of hope for them, considering his past achievements at ‘Peugeot.’
Within a year of Jean’s arrival at the company as the general manager, ‘Ferrari’s driver Gerhard Berger won the ‘German Grand Prix,’ which was ‘Ferrari’s first victory in more than 4 years.
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By the end of the season, Jean offered record-holding racer Michael Schumacher to join ‘Ferrari.’ Michael accepted the offer. They ended up developing a strong personal friendship, too.
In 1996, Michael won the ‘Spanish Grand Prix’ for ‘Ferrari,’ followed by the ‘German Grand Prix’ and the ‘Italian Grand Prix.’ Jean’s magic touch brought the company back on top again as ‘Ferrari’ ended up winning five consecutive ‘World Championships,’ in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. It was a record in the history of ‘Formula One.’
In 2004, Jean was promoted to the post of CEO of ‘Ferrari.’ After winning 14 world titles and sealing 106 victories, Jean’s glorious career at ‘Ferrari’ came to an end in 2009.
In April 2009, Jean started working as the president of ‘eSafety Aware!’ The company promoted smart vehicles. In July 2009, he officially announced then he would be running for the presidency of the ‘FIA.’
The elections took place in October, and Jean took over the post as the president of the federation. In the elections that took place in 2013 and 2017, he retained his post as the president.
Jean also serves as the member of the French ‘Académie des sports’ and ‘Académie des technologies’ and sits on the board of directors of a French luxury hotel and casino group named ‘Groupe Lucien Barrière’. He also serves as one of the administrators of the ‘Société des Amis du Musée d'Art moderne de la ville de Paris.’
Jean Todt has always been vocal about his admiration for Michael Schumacher. They have been friends since they both worked at ‘Ferrari.’ Even after quitting the company, they have remained close family friends.
Jean started dating Malaysian–Chinese actor Michelle Yeoh in 2004. She has been part of films such as ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’ Jean was one of the producers in Michelle’s 2011 film ‘The Lady.’
Several of his opponents have claimed that Jean utilizes his wife’s glamor quotient, as he invites Michelle to many of the meetings where he himself is invited as the ‘FIA’ president.
Jean has a son named Nicolas Todt from his earlier marriage. Nicolas co-owns the ‘GP2’ team ‘ART Grand Prix.’