These life stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as images, voices and names of people now deceased. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant support services on our support page.

Syrian-born French businessman and writer, Mohed Altrad (b. circa 1948), was in kinship care as a child. 

Mohed Altrad was born into a Bedouin tribe in the Syrian desert. His birth was not formally recorded. Altrad’s mother was a young girl, aged around twelve or thirteen, when she gave birth after being raped by a tribal leader. 

I was born from a woman who was violated twice by the head of the tribe. He kept my elder brother, but he treated him so badly. Then he killed him. He didn’t want me, so I grew up with my grandmother (Slot). 

Altrad believes he was around four years old when his mother died of a serious illness. Altrad was then sent to with his grandmother, who did not send him to school. 

Around the age of seven, Altrad became intrigued with schooling after peeking into a classroom window. He then began risking his grandmother’s wrath by walking twenty kilometres a day through the desert to attend.  

Education was Altrad’s salvation. When Altrad’s father bought him a bicycle, he rented it out to other young boys and used the earnings to buy school supplies.  

As a teenager, Altrad went to live with another relative near Raqqa. He graduated first in his region and won a scholarship to attend university in Montpellier, France.  

Altrad had only a limited understanding of the French language when he began university. He studied physics and math, but had no specific career goals. 

I had no special dream at the time. Only the ambition not to accept my initial destiny. (Mohed Altrad website)

While at university, Altrad spent his summer working in grapevines, and later as an engineer for technology firms. He soon met his future wife, who was also a university student. The couple would go on to have five children.  

Altrad earned a doctorate in computer science in 1980. He qualified for French citizenship in the same year. Shortly after finishing his doctorate, Alfred was hired to work in the IT department of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.  

In 1985, Altrad was persuaded to buy a debt-ridden scaffolding business while on vacation at his in-laws in Florensac. Although Altrad did not know the French word for scaffolding, he recognised its importance.  

I saw that the product was very useful, since you need scaffolding in every sector: construction, refineries, airports… I told people that I was putting in all the money I’d earned in five years. They thought, ‘He believes in us’ (Stevens). 

Altrad partnered with a British friend named Richard Alcock to obtain the company and assume responsibility for its liabilities. Within a year, the company was making a small profit.  

That company would eventually become the Altrad Group, a global leader in industrial manufacturing and services. The Altrad Group now employs around 52,000 people across the globe. With 200 subsidiaries, the company has an annual turnover of around 300 billion dollars.  

In 2011 Montpellier’s mayor sought Altrad’s help to secure the survival of Herault Rugby. Altrad bought the club, even though he had previously never been to a game. Altrad was found guilty of bribery charges (along with the French Rugby Federation president, Bernard Laporte) in December 2022 in relation to the club he owns, Montpellier, and others he sponsors. He received a suspended prison fine and a substantial fine. 

Mohed Altrad is also an acclaimed novelist. His first book, Badawi (1994), draws on his experience of being caught between two worlds. It won a literary prize and was recommended as school curriculum by the Academy of Montpellier. He went on to write two more novels and several management books.  

Altrad was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in 2005, and was promoted to Officer in 2014. He also won the French Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014. In 2015, Altrad won the World Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 

According to Altrad, his life experiences have taught him that compassion, justice and respect for diversity are more important than money. He explains that his business is founded on the values of courage, humility, and solidarity.   

The principle on which I built my business is: I do not know you, I do not know what you are capable of doing, but I will trust you and work with you, from wherever you come from, whatever is your nationality, religion, language, culture (Gourtsilidou). 


“About Mohed Altrad.” Mohed Altrad website. 

“Altrad At A Glance.” Altrad Group website. 

Gourtsilidou, Maria. “Profile: Mohed Altrad – The Bedouin billionaire who was born in a tent.” CEO World, 12 Jan 2021. 

Slot, Owen. “Montpellier owner: I am the product of a rape. My dad then killed my brother.” The Times, 13 May 2016. 

Savchuk, Katia. “From Bedouin to Billionaire: Meet the Man Changing What It Means to be French after Charlie Hedbo.” Forbes, 23 March 2015. 

Image available here.