He began his studies at Saint-Astier, then Périgeux in Dordogne, and continued on at the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris where he prepared to attend the grandes écoles.
A graduate of the elite Ecole Polytechnique, he ranked 4th in the entrance examination in 1955 and was elected class representative. It was while attending Polytechnique that he was recruited by a classmate's father, André Sahut d'Izarn, chairman of the Anciennes Mutuelles, an insurance company in Rouen. Sahut d'Izarn was looking for that special person he could develop into his future successor.
After attending the Saumur Calvary School, he went on to do his military service in Algeria.
In 1958, Claude Bébéar joined Anciennes Mutuelles where he remained until 1975, working his way through various divisions of the company. He graduated with a diploma from the Actuary Institute in Paris.
From 1964 to 1966, he was sent on assignment to Canada where he created the life insurance division of Provinces Unies, a Canadian subsidiary of the Anciennes Mutuelles group. It was while working there that he discovered how important it was to have an international vision of business and an appreciation for cultural diversity.
In 1975, on the death of André Sahut d'Izarn, Claude Bébéar was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the company. He had spearheaded the resolution of a crippling strike and became firmly convinced of the importance of a positive labor relations policy. He also created the Ancienne Mutuelle de Réassurance (" Amré ") which later became AXA RE. Then in 1978, Anciennes Mutuelles was renamed Mutuelles Unies and the Mutuelle Parisienne de Garantie (Parisian Mutual Insurance Company), a practically bankrupt P & C company, joined the group.
In 1982, with a left-wing government in power and the looming threat of nationalization of the insurance sector, Bébéar seized the opportunity to take over the Drouot Group. Drouot was then the leading private insurance company in France. Claude Bébéar took over as President of both Drouot and Mutuelles Unies and used Drouot's offices as the company's headquarters.
It was in 1985 that the Group became known as AXA. 1985 was also the year that Bébéar decided to leave the operational side of the insurance business and taking up his position as CEO of the Group. In 1983, he also created Entreprise et Cité, an association of business
leaders concerned by the role business plays in society and how it can make positive contributions and improvements to the world in which we live and work.
In April, 1986, AXA takes over the Présence Group.1986 was also the year when the "Institut du Mécénat Humanitaire" (Institute of Humanitarian Philanthropy), today called IMS (Institute of Solidarity Philantrophy), was created. Getting businesses to get involved into humanitarian projects in the same way as they sponsor sports or cultural activities was a formidable challenge and Claude Bébéar, along with a few other business leaders, felt it was important to undertake.
In 1988, Generali launched an unsolicited bid on the Compagnie du Midi and Bernard Pagézy asked the AXA Group to step in as a white knight. Pagézy then tried to dilute the AXA stock at the expense of the protection he had achieved. The battle that opposed the two men was finally settled in favor of Claude Bébéar during the annual shareholder meeting of Compagnie du Midi. The Assurances du Groupe de Paris, owned by the Compagnie du Midi, would soon join the other four companies already being merged.
AXA was now the second largest French insurer, just behind UAP. In addition to its controlling interest in Compagnie du Midi, it acquired Equity and Law in Great Britain, ranked 6th in British life insurance.
The next ten years were to see AXA's internationalization and consolidation.
At the end of 1989, AXA tried to obtain approval from the US authorities to take over Farmers, a P&C insurance company. Owned by BAT, the British conglomerate, it was also coveted by Jimmy Goldsmith. The deal did not work out but helped the Group make enormous progress in dealing in the US marketplace while giving AXA a chance to develop a strategic view about the insurance industry. This was of tremendous value as AXA initiated the process of taking over Equitable. First contacts were made in January, 1991, and agreement was reached in July, 1991. AXA crossed the Atlantic and took control of the 5th largest US life insurer. Through Equitable, AXA acquired skills in asset management with Alliance Capital and investment banking with DLJ. Equitable was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1992.
In 1990, AXA created AXA Atout Coeur ("Heart in Action"). From numerous action plans developed for humanitarian causes, sports or cultural events, and carried out throughout different Group companies, Claude Bébéar, after extensive consultation with employees, decided to concentrate resources on humanitarian philanthropy and gave his full support to his 2,000 staff members and volunteers in their endeavors.
In 1995, with the Equitable acquisition completed, AXA was ready to take on new projects. News of the Equitable deal circulated around the world and the top management of the Australian mutual insurance company, National Mutual, approached Claude Bébéar. Six months later, an agreement was reached with AXA holding shares in this Australian life insurance company as well as in its Hong Kong subsidiary. With National Mutual came the discovery of Asia and the Southern hemisphere. It also brought other cultures, 9-hour jet lag and trips lasting over 24 hours...
1996 November 11: UAP joined the ranks of the AXA Group. This merger doubled AXA's size in France and created a sizable presence in Great Britain, Belgium and Germany.
During the next 18 months, Claude Bébéar traveled around the world to meet staff and explain Group's strategy and his expectations of each one of them. Taking the time to motivate and unite staff around the restructuring was important to him.
In 1997, former US President George Bush, presented Claude Bébéar with the "Point of Light" Award in recognition of AXA's leadership in humanitarian philanthropy. This was the first time such a distinction had been awarded to a non-US company.
Early in 1999, Guardian Royal Exchange became part of the AXA Group and provided AXA with the critical size needed in Great Britain for property, casualty and health insurance, as well as bring with it an important activity in Germany and additional operations in Asia and South America. These were very welcome additions to increase the geographic coverage of the Group.
At the end of 1999, Claude Bébéar saw the opportunity to enter the world's largest life insurance market by taking control over Nippon Dantaï, ranked as Japan's 13th largest life insurer.
Mr. Bébéar stepped down as Chairman of the AXA Management Board in May 2000, and was succeeded by Henri de Castries. At that time, Mr. Bébéar was appointed Chairman of the AXA Supervisory Board.
As announced in February 2008, Claude Bébéar decided not to seek the renewal of his mandate as a member of the Supervisory Board upon expiration of his mandate on April 22, 2008, consistent with the principle that he has long defended of not renewing the mandate of Supervisory Board members older than 70 years of age.
Since April 22, 2008, Mr. Claude Bébéar is Honorary Chairman of AXA.
Since May 18, 2015, he is Honorary Chairman of the Institut Montaigne, an independent think tank which he founded and chaired. In light of this, he compiled and prefaced a collection of these contributions: Le courage de réformer (The Courage to Reform) (-publisher: Odile Jacob) was published in May 2002. Ils vont tuer le capitalisme was published in May 2003