"Secrets by Mulliez", an investigation conducted by our Journalism students in collaboration with ESJ Lille

Last March, for the second consecutive year, the Master 1 Journalism students embarked on a collaborative investigation carried out jointly with Master 2 students from ESJ Lille in the "investigation" specialisation.

The theme for this 2023 edition? The Mulliez family (and its brands), whose mantra "Live happy, live hidden" intrigued and prompted our students to investigate. From this long-term project emerged ten topics in a file called "Secrets by Mulliez" which will soon be published on Mammouth média.

The first two topics are already available:

While waiting to discover the complete investigation, take a look behind the scenes of the project!

An article written by Louis Oger (IHECS) and Jade Bourgery (ESJ Lille), coordinators of the group conducting the investigation

Secrets by Mulliez, investigation  into a family as discreet as it is influential

It all started in November 2022, in an ESJ classroom. The topic of the day? Financial investigation. A bit on the fly, the idea of working on Decathlon was launched, Nobody could imagine then that this decision would lead six months later to ten collaborative investigations into one of the richest families in Flanders.

The Mulliez empire is everywhere in France and Belgium. You may not be aware of this, but when you buy clothes at Jules or BZB, purchase DIY products at Leroy Merlin or fill your shopping trolley at Auchan, you are at a Mulliez store.

This family has 1400 members and its financial assets amount to almost 26 billion euros. However, it is unknown to the general public. And for good reason, internally, the instructions are clear: live happy, live hidden.

Ten investigations, from street corners to tax havens

We take you to Greece for a nautical excursion in the warm waters of the Mediterranean as we follow in the footsteps of a tragic court case consigned to history. You will be familiar with the financial tensions that are tearing the family association apart against the backdrop of an outdated economic model. You will meet Franky, the ugly duckling, founder of Kilatou and the antithesis of the austere culture promoted by the Mulliez.

We also offer you a chance to delve into tax havens, in search of good financial schemes from Auchan, Decathlon and Leroy Merlin, as well as in Bangladesh, on the trail of the production chains manufacturing the family’s brands. Then back to Flanders, where we invite you to scrutinise the red bricks of the narrow streets of Lille: some of them bear traces of the influence exerted by this family throughout the region. 

Five weeks of collaborative work

We had to redouble our ingenuity in order to come into contact with this discreet dynasty. For a long time, the watchword was discretion. We were forbidden to discuss this investigation with our friends or relatives. At 25, you would have done better to entrust a china shop to an elephant.

Hard work and perseverance took over. A phone call taking place in one corner, a team meeting or the writing of an article in another, the premises of the ESJ and IHECS have been transformed into a veritable hive of industry.

Over these five weeks, we contacted more than 600 people, analysed several hundred financial statements and cadastral plots, and read hundreds of pages of books or other documents of all kinds.

Investigating the Mulliez also means spending nearly 200 hours in front of the computer, covering thousands of kilometres on foot, by train and by plane; facing numerous interview refusals and giving up on the idea of even counting the number of unanswered emails. Several members of the Mulliez family were regularly contacted. With rare exceptions, the vast majority had no desire to engage with us.

A partnership with Mediacités Lille and Le Soir

This investigation represented a collective challenge. We had to work together remotely a large part of the time, while remaining in almost permanent contact between Brussels and Lille. To carry out this project, we were able to count on the valuable advice of five journalists: Damien Brunon and Gaëtan Gras, the educational managers of ESJ and IHECS, and three external professionals, Clémence de Blasi, Yves Adaken (Mediacités) and Joël Matriche (Le Soir). We were also able to benefit from the infinite knowledge of tax havens thanks to whistleblower Maxime Renahy.

We had to rack our brains to find a way to illustrate our articles on this family that shuns the limelight. How could we represent the secrets? We chose to use only images generated by artificial intelligence. We are well aware of the problems that these create in terms of the principle of intellectual property. For the sake of transparency, we therefore decided to publish the queries used to generate our images.

Thank you to all the teaching teams from IHECS and ESJ for supporting us, as well as to the speakers for their support.

Thanks also to Bertrand Gobin, author of numerous works on the secrets of the family, and to Benoît Boussemart, Mulliez financial specialist.

"Beyond the exceptional entrepreneurial success of the clan, the Mulliez saga is above all a most romantic family story."
Bertrand Gobin and Guillaume d’Herblin, Le Secret des Mulliez

Louis Oger (IHECS) et Jade Bourgery (ESJ Lille), coordinateurs du groupe d’enquête