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From saucisson to breast implants: PIP founder Jean-Claude Mas

3 min

Before the global scare over his breast implant manufacturing firm erupted a few weeks ago, PIP founder Jean-Claude Mas was considered a success story just ten years ago. FRANCE 24 takes a look into his past of pharmaceuticals, saucisson and cognac.


“I’m a player but I’m also a winner,” Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the PIP breast implant manufacturer, told economic French daily La Tribune in 2001. Back then, he was on the cusp of becoming one of France’s success stories. A self-made-man who dabbled in wine, cognac and dried sausage before launching himself into the breast implant business.

It emerged this week that Mas was well aware that his Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) business was manufacturing substandard silicone which was not recognised by the French authorities. “I always knew,” he told police in October. “I did it knowingly because PIP gel […] as far as the price-performance ratio is concerned, was cheaper and of better quality.”

Mas’s company made savings of around one million euros per year by using the substandard gel. It soon grew to become the world’s third largest breast implant manufacturer. Today, some 300,000 women in 65 countries around the world are believed to have PIP implants.

Born in the south-western town of Tarbes in 1939, little is know about Mas’s early life. It was reported in the French press that he worked as a butcher as a young man, but the rumour was discounted by his lawyer, Yves Haddad, on Thursday. “Jean-Claude was never a butcher,” he told Libération newspaper. “He should not be portrayed as a monster”.

According to French daily Le Monde however, Mas did work in the dried sausage, or saucisson, trade. Before that, he spent a decade at US pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) as a young man. His lawyer described him as one of the best medical delegates the company had, but he nonetheless quit in the late seventies and took on saucisson, wine and cognac instead.

It was during that time that he began associating himself with Henri Arion, the French plastic surgeon who invented the breast implant. When Arion died in 1991, he set up PIP, hiring an initial 120 employees.

According to Le Monde, Mas travelled to Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and the UK – coincidentally (or not), all countries where breast implants are popular. His strategy worked: his business took off and initially dealt mainly with Latin America, according to a former employee quoted by AFP.

It was in the early 2000s that PIP started coming under fire for malpractice. In 2005-6 the company was forced to pay 1.4 million euros to British victims of its “exploding” implants. And a year later, complaints across the channel, in France, began trickling in. One employee told Le Monde: “We were making as much profit as implants were rupturing”.

Only in 2010 was PIP finally shut down. Abnormally high rupture levels led the French health authorities to take action, despite denial of any wrongdoing from Mas, who blamed his accusers of “psychological instability”. “They’re only doing it for the money,” he told police after his arrest in October.

Mas’s lawyer, Yves Haddad, reiterated his client’s stance this week when he told FRANCE 24 that he had “no regrets” concerning PIP. “Mas cannot defend himself because he has not yet been accused of anything,” he added.

French officials say that that cancer, including 16 cases of breast cancer, have been detected in 20 French women with the implants, but stress there is no proven link with the disease.

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