1904 was to be an important year in the brilliant career of this industrialist whose ambition knew no bounds: Édouard Empain became majority shareholder of the Ateliers de Construction électrique de Charleroi (ACEC) and also discovered Egypt, where he took over ownership of the Société des Tramways du Caire [Cairo Tramlines Company]. He fell in love with the country immediately and decided to turn a dream into his own reality. He created a new town, a type of garden city born of the desert bordering the former ancient city of Heliopolis. This modern town, today part of greater Cairo, would remain a model of urban planning and architecture, harmoniously combining Art Deco, orientalism, the neo-Moorish style, monumental art and the comforts of modern life.
In 1907, two years before his death, Léopold II ennobled Édouard Empain, thereby confirming his success and respectability. Now bearing the title of baron and, a little later, that of Grand Officer of the Order of Léopold and of Major-General, as organiser of supplies for the Belgian army during the First World War, Édouard Empain calmly continued his rise during the 1920s, both in the chemical industry and in Congolese mining.
In the autumn of 1929 and despite their youth, Jean and Louis thus found themselves at the head of the huge empire built by their father. They began by restructuring the various companies within the family group, creating the Société Électrorail (Electrorail Company). Jean made a tolerably good job of this, despite an extremely dissipated life in which sumptuous parties and cruises on the yacht Héliopolis vied with evenings spent gambling in Europe’s most famous casinos. For his part, and in contrast, Louis became more and more austere, creating concern in his circle by taking positions described as socialist, prioritising human relations and the solidarity that he felt should be developed between the financial world and the world of the working man.