According to Bloomberg Billionaires Indexa ranking of billionaires made by the international news agency BloombergFrench entrepreneur Bernard Arnault became the new richest person in the world on Tuesday. Previously this primacy belonged to the entrepreneur Elon Musk, among other things owner of Twitter and CEO of Tesla, who in 2021 had in turn ousted the founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos.
Arnault is 73 years old, he is chairman, managing director and main shareholder of the French luxury multinational LVMH: according to estimates, his assets amount to 170 billion euros. Throughout his career he has been described in many ways, from “Pope of fashion” to “wolf in cashmere” and “rich jerk”. Since there is the ranking of Bloombergit is the first time that a European billionaire holds the record for the richest person in the world.
Arnault was born in Roubaix, a small town in northern France, on the border with Belgium. After his studies he had gone to work for the family firm, Ferret Savinel, which operated in the construction and public works sector and over the following ten years had grown it into a successful real estate company. In the 1980s he went on to expand the company’s business in the United States.
When he returned he had saved up a small fortune which he decided to invest in the luxury sector. He acquired the Boussac Saint-Freres textile group, which owned the prestigious Christian Dior brand and the Parisian department store Le Bon Marché. The company was bankrupt and Arnault not only managed to save it, but with the resulting earnings he founded the LVMH group, which today is one of the largest in the world together with Kering, Richemont and Estée Lauder.
The Arnault family now owns about 47 percent of the shares of LVMH, which owns over seventy of the most famous luxury brands and companies in the world: Bulgari, Fendi, Céline, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Kenzo, Loro Piana, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Sephora, Le Bon Marché and many more. In particular, Arnault’s fortune derives from the shares of Christian Dior, of which he owns 97.5 percent, and which in turn controls about 41 percent of the LVMH group. The remaining 6 percent is made up of the shares of other family members.
LVMH is so called because it was born in 1987 from the merger of the accessories company Louis Vuitton and the luxury wine and spirits company Moët Hennessy. The merger was conceived and led by Bernard Arnault, who managed to bring the two parties to an agreement and a few years later became the majority shareholder of the group. Starting in the 1990s, he pursued a very aggressive strategy based on the acquisition of important brands in the luxury goods sector, which led the group to become what it is today. Arnault’s last major acquisition was the more than $15 billion acquisition of the historic luxury jewelry company Tiffany & Co. in January 2021, considered one of the largest ever in the luxury sector.
Furthermore, Arnault was among the first in the sector to understand that the Chinese market would become one of the most important and he opened the first Louis Vuitton store in Beijing as early as 1992. But his foresight and strategic ability also involved decisions more closely related to fashion, such as hiring Marc Jacobs as creative director of Louis Vuitton when he was still a young designer, or asking the English designer John Galliano, now considered one of the most important of all time, to modernize Givenchy and then Christian Dior.
Among his failures, however, there was the unsuccessful attempt to acquire Gucci: after a long competition, in 2001 control of the company (which is now part of the Kering group) was taken by the French billionaire François Pinault.
Like all billionaires, Arnault has often been subject to criticism. In 2012 he was embroiled in a scandal after he applied for Belgian citizenship, according to many in an attempt to avoid a large tax increase introduced by President François Hollande. More recently, he had made headlines for deciding to sell the corporate private jet following the debate that arose in France after a Twitter account began tracking the movements and environmental impact of the jets of some characters in view. In a radio interview, Arnault then commented saying: “the result now is that no one can see where I’m going because when I want to travel on a private plane I rent it”.
Unlike Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault is a very private person who rarely appears in public and does not use social networks. He had five children from two wives and all of them now work in the group or in one of his companies. He is known for having a very strict diet, for being an avid tennis player and an art lover. It was he who commissioned the opening of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the art museum and cultural center opened in Paris in 2014 and managed by LVMH.
After the losses of recent years mainly due to the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, in 2021 LVMH recovered very well and had a turnover of 64 billion euros. Arnault’s climb in the ranking of Bloomberg however, it is mainly due to the recent purchase of Twitter by Musk, which cost around 44 billion dollars, and the bad performance of his other companies on the stock market, which would have caused him to lose around 100 billion dollars since January.
In addition to the LVMH shares, Arnault is estimated to own around €9.4 billion in cash and a number of other assets.