Often called the world’s tastemaker, Arnault’s five children work with him in various corners of his sprawling empire. Earlier in his career, his mother's 'fascination for Dior' had led the world's richest man on his path to the billions.
Bernard Arnault, the CEO and Chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, once again became the richest man alive. The luxury mogul took over the spot from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and CEO of Blue Origin. The 72-year-old Frenchman has held the title of the richest man alive on four occasions, briefly in December 2019, in January 2020, in May 2021, and in July 2021.
With a current net worth of $199.8 billion, Arnault has been trading spots with Bezos as well as Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Arnault is the only centibillionaire, an individual with a net worth of over $100 billion, to not have made his fortune from software or tech.
As the owner of the LVMH conglomerate, he controls over 70 luxury brands, including Givenchy, Guerlain, Marc Jacobs, Tiffany & Co, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, Loro Piana, Nicholas Kirkwood, Thomas Pink, R.M. Williams, EDUN, Moynat, Donna Karan, TAG Heuer, De Beers, and Bulgari. The group is the most valuable company in Europe with a market capitalisation of more than $400 billion.
But Arnault started with none of them.
Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault was born on March 5, 1949, in the French city of Roubaix, near the Belgian border, just a few years after the devastation of WWII had ended and rebuilding efforts were in full swing. Graduating in 1971 from École Polytechnique, France’s leading engineering institution, Arnault joined to work in his father’s construction company, Ferret-Savinel.
Showing his business acumen at an early age, Arnault convinced his father to sell the industrial construction division of the company to focus on real estate and soon after succeeded his father as president of this new company called Ferinel. Through his many acquisitions, Arnault would later sell the real estate business as well.
In 1984, Arnault managed to acquire the bankrupt Boussac Saint-Frères conglomerate, an entity that owned Christian Dior. Boussac was bankrupt and the French government was looking for someone to rescue the ailing business.
Arnault would later state in interviews that his mother, Marie Josèphe Savinel, had a “fascination for Dior.” It is perhaps for this reason that Arnault sold all assets of Boussac’s empire, only to retain possession of Christian Dior. Within years of his management, the business turned a profit once more. It was here he got the moniker of ‘Wolf in Cashmere,’ signifying his ruthless and effective business acumen in an otherwise luxurious world.
From here Arnault went on to oust and then wrest control of the newly-formed luxury conglomerate LVMH, set up by Moët Hennessy and Louis Vuitton. Over the years, Arnault, with his keen eye for luxury, acquired numerous brands to fold into LVMH, including Tiffany & Co, the American jeweller, in a $15.8-billion deal.
Often called the world’s tastemaker, Arnault’s five children also work with him in various corners of his massive empire. The French tycoon has also been awarded the honorary titles of Grand Officier de la Legion d’Honneur and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. His recent swell in wealth has come due to increasing sales of luxury goods, and the steady rate at which he has been purchasing shares of LVMH in his own name. The French tycoon owns a 47.5 percent stake in Europe’s most valuable company.
But it is yet to be seen whether Arnault can cling on to the top spot for longer this time. As the tycoon himself puts it, it is all down to timing.
"I think in business, you have to learn to be patient. Maybe I’m not very patient myself. But I think what I’ve learned the most is to be able to wait for something and get it when it’s the right time."
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST