Patrick Pouyanné was born in Petit-Quevilly in the region of Seine-Maritime in France. He spent some of his youth in Bayonne, where his father is the director of regional customs. At 20, he entered the École Polytechnique where he graduated with an engineer degree, holding the 11th spot in the degree ranking. He then became engineer of Corps des mines.
Patrick Pouyanné started his career in 1989 at the French ministry of industry. In 1993, he became the technical advisor of Édouard Balladur, the French first minister at the time. In 1995, he became technical advisor for environment and industry, and chief of staff of François Fillon right after at the Information Technology and Space Minister from 1995 to 1996. In January 1997, he joined the petroleum company Elf as general secretary for the Angolan subsidiary. Two years later, he was named at the management of the Qatari's Exploration-Production department.
In 2000 Total absorbed Elf and Patrick Pouyanné kept his position in this new French conglomerate that joined the ten most important petroleum groups in the world. In 2002 he became Total's Senior Vice President of the Exploration Production department in charge of the Finance, Economics and Information systems and then in charge of the Strategy Business Development and R&D in 2006.
In May 2006 he entered Total's Management Committee, and was named Deputy General Manager of the Refining and Chemistry department in 2011. He entered Total's Executive Committee and was named President of the Refining Chemicals department in 2012.
On 22 October 2014, following the death of Christophe de Margerie, CEO of the group, it was decided to separate the functions of "President of the Board of Directors" and "Executive Director". Patrick Pouyanné was appointed CEO and President of the Executive Committee, while Thierry Desmarest, then honorary President of the group, was recalled for the position of temporary President.
He was decorated as Knight of the Legion of Honor in September 2015.
On 29 May 2015 he was elected as Member of the Board of Directors of Total. On 16 December Patrick Pouyanné was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of Total, combining both roles.