“A diploma is important at the beginning,” he told The Times, “but for the rest of a professional career, the tools of success are constant work, business instincts, pragmatism and charisma.”
He remembered his mother teaching him to be thrifty, advising him: “Extinguish the lamps. We don’t have the resources of the Rothschilds!”
Post-World War II reconstruction made the family nail company profitable, and Mr. Frère, recognizing that the Korean conflict would create a demand for steel, invested in a plant and eventually controlled half the country’s production. He made a windfall in 1979 when the Belgian government nationalized the industry before prices slumped.
After he established Pargesa Holding in Geneva with Mr. Desmarais (who died in 2013), the partners took over Groupe Bruxelles Lambert in 1982. Mr. Frère engineered the 2007 merger of Suez SA, a waste and water company, with Gaz de France, and sold his 25 percent stake in the German media company Bertelsmann for $5.8 billion in 2006.
Mr. Frère and Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the French luxury-goods firm, jointly owned the Chateau Cheval Blanc vineyard in Saint-Émilion, France.
Mr. Frère retired as chief executive of Groupe Bruxelles Lambert in 2015.
His survivors include a son, Gérald, from his first marriage, to Nelly Poplimont; and a daughter, Ségolène Gallienne, from his second marriage, to Christine Henning.
His son is the chairman of Groupe Bruxelles Lambert and vice chairman of Pargesa; his daughter is on the board of both companies. A son from his second marriage, Charles-Albert, died in a car accident in 1999.