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Who Is Bernard Arnault? The LVMH founder is one of the world's richest people and his family-run company operates like the plot of 'Succession.'

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Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH, has brought all his five children into the business.Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images
  • Bernard Arnault is the world's third richest man. He has a net worth of $171 billion, according to Bloomberg.

  • He controls the massive luxury conglomerate LVMH, and his children all hold roles in the business.

  • His eldest son, Antoine Arnault, will be stepping down from his role as CEO of Berluti in January.

No name is perhaps more synonymous with the world of luxury goods than Bernard Arnault.

Arnault, the 74-year-old CEO of French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, or just LVMH for short, built his fortune over the span of almost four decades, amassing a luxury-goods empire that includes some of the best-known brands in fashion, jewelry, and alcohol, including Louis Vuitton, TAG Heuer, and Dom Pérignon.

He's now the third wealthiest man in the world, with a net worth of about $171 billion, according to Bloomberg, though he, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk have traded places on and off.

Along the way, he's brought his five adult children into the fold, building a family-run business that has resulted in immense wealth and even drawn comparisons to the hit HBO show Succession (which Arnault has dismissed).

This week, LVMH announced that Arnault's eldest son, Antoine, would be stepping down from his post as the CEO of Berluti, a luxury shoe brand expected to draw close to $300 million in sales this year. When the change goes into effect in January, Antoine will remain chairman.

Here's a closer look at Arnault family.

The 74-year-old French businessman is the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, known as LVMH.

bernard arnault lvmh
The majority of Arnault's wealth comes from his stake in luxury fashion house, Christian Dior.Getty Images

Arnault owns a 97.5% stake in Christian Dior, which controls 41.4% of LVMH, according to Bloomberg.

Arnault comes from the northern French town of Roubaix.

Ecole Polytechnique
Students from École Polytechnique, where Arnault went to school.Thibault Camus/AP

He studied engineering at one of France's most prestigious schools, the École Polytechnique, and after graduating, he went to work for his father's construction company, Ferret-Savinel, according to Bloomberg.

 

In 1984, Arnault acquired an ailing company called Agache-Willot-Boussac.

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LVMH vice president Alain Chevalier and Bernard Arnault, then CEO of Financière Agache, at an event in Paris in 1988.Getty Images

Agache-Willot-Boussac owned brands like French department store Bon Marché and the fashion house Christian Dior, according to The New York Times. He renamed the firm Financière Agache and initiated a turnaround, cutting costs and selling off some of its businesses, the Times reported.

The moves helped the company earn an additional $112 million on revenue of $1.9 billion just a few years later.

Celine
Arnault bough Celine and funded designer Christian LaCroix after helping bring in additional revenue for Financiere Agache.Claudio Lavenia/Getty Images

In 1987, he bought the fashion house Celine and funded the French designer Christian Lacroix, according to The New York Times.

 

In the late 1980s, Arnault said his goal was to run the world's largest luxury company within the following decade.

Bernard Arnault
Bernard Arnault circa 1980.Michel SETBOUN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

He then set his sights on LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, spending $2.6 billion buying up shares in order to become the company's largest shareholder, and eventually its chairman and CEO, by 1989, according to The New York Times.

Arnault married Anne Dewavrin in 1973.

Arnault and first wife
Arnault and his now ex-wife Anne Dewavrin.Frederic REGLAIN / Contributor/Getty Images

The couple had two children, and during their marriage, Arnault moved the family to the United States for a couple of years in "open reaction to the rise of the French Socialists and their determination to tax the rich," according to France24.

He and Dewavrin separated in 1990, according to the Financial Times.

Arnault then married concert pianist, Hélène Mercier, in 1991.

helene mercier bernard arnault
Bernard Arnault and his second wife, Canadian concert pianist, Hélène Mercier.Reuters

Arnault reportedly wooed her by playing Chopin and other classical composers for her, according to Forbes.

 

Like many of his fellow billionaires, Arnault lives a lavish life.

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Bernard Arnault on board his private jet between Beijing and Shanghai.Marc DEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

He traveled by a $73 million private jet until last year, selling it after Twitter accounts began tracking the aircraft. He owns properties in glitzy Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera. Earlier this year, he bought $22 million worth of property in the Hamptons, according to the Observer.

 

The French billionaire and his wife live on Paris's Left Bank, south of the Seine River, a historic area that includes neighborhoods such as the Latin Quarter and St. Germain-des-Prés.

Paris street at nighttime with awnings of restaurants and diners seated outside
Restaurants in the Latin Quarter in Paris.Gary Yeowell/Getty Images

He also has an impressive art collection of both modern and contemporary paintings that includes pieces by artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso, according to Bloomberg.

 

 

Arnault has five children: two with his first wife and three with his current wife.

LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault poses with five children and wife outside
From left: Alexandre, Frédéric, and Jean Arnault, Helene Mercier, and Bernard, Delphine, and Antoine Arnault.DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

Antoine and Delphine Arnault are his two children from his first marriage, while his youngest three — Alexandre, Frédéric, and Jean — are from his second marriage to Mercier, according to The New York Times.

 

Delphine, Arnault's oldest daughter, has established herself as a central figure in the LVMH empire.

delphine arnault
Delphine Arnault became CEO of Christian Dior Couture in February.Getty Images

She started her career at the American consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. in Paris and was the executive vice president at Louis Vuitton, according to Business of Fashion. In January 2019, Delphine became the youngest member of LVMH's executive committee at age 43, according to mds. Delphine became CEO and chair of Christian Dior Couture in February.

Delphine married Italian wine heir Alessandro Vallarino Gancia in 2005 in what Forbes called at the time "France's wedding of the year."

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Delphine Arnault at her wedding to first husband Alessandro Vallarino Gancia.DERRICK CEYRAC/AFP/Getty Images

The couple divorced in 2010. She now reportedly lives with tech billionaire, Xavier Niel, and has two children.

Delphine is notoriously private about her personal life. In a 2014 interview with the Financial Times, she said, "I'm quite discreet. I think I'd rather focus on my work."

 

Delphine's younger brother Antoine is CEO of Christian Dior SE, the holding company of LVMH, a role he was appointed to in December 2022.

Antoine Arnault backstage at a fashion show looking through curtains
Antoine Arnault was appointed the CEO of Christian Dior SE in December 2022.Christophe Ena/AP

Since 2011, he's been CEO of luxury shoemaker Berluti, though he'll be handing over the reins in January to Jean-Marc Mansvelt, who has been CEO of the LVMH-owned jewelry label Chaumet until now. Antoine will stay on as the chairman of Berluti, and cashmere label Loro Piana. Antoine has also been a board member of LVMH since 2006, and was named the company's head of communication and image in 2018, according to Business of Fashion.

Antoine is married to supermodel Natalia Vodianova, whom he reportedly met on a shoot for a 2008 Louis ­Vuitton campaign when he was the brand's head of communications.

Antoine Arnault and Natalia Vodianova sit front row at fashion show
Antoine Arnault and his wife, model Natalia Vodianova, whom he met in 2008.Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

The couple lives in Paris with their two children, and Vodianova's three children from a previous marriage, according to W Magazine.

 

Alexandre, the son of Bernard Arnault and Mercier, became an executive VP at Tiffany & Co. after LVMH bought the jewelry brand.

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Alexandre Arnault, the executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany & Co.REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

LVMH acquired Tiffany & Co. in 2021, after which Alexandre became the company's executive vice president of product and communications. Prior to moving over to Tiffany, Alexandre was the CEO of Rimowa, a German luggage brand owned by LVMH.

Alexandre is longtime friends with Evan Spiegel, the chief executive of Snap. Spiegel told The New York Times that Alexandre is "a really creative guy" and that "he's constantly thinking about the brand and how to express that."

 

Alexandre's younger brother Frédéric is the CEO of TAG Heuer.

Bernard Arnault son
Bernard Arnault and his son Frédéric Arnault in June 2018.Reuters

After internships at Facebook, McKinsey, and a stint running a mobile payments startup, Frédéric became the temporary head of connected technologies at TAG Heuer, LVMH's largest watch brand, in 2017. By 2020, when Frédéric was just 25, he was named TAG Heuer's CEO.

Arnault's youngest son, Jean, joined the family business in 2021.

bernard arnault sons jean
Jean Arnault, front left, with his brother Frederic, center, and father, Bernard.Rindoff Petroff/Hekimian/Getty Images

In August 2021, Jean Arnault became marketing and product director in Louis Vuitton's watch division; he was just 23 at the time.

Jean Arnault has a master's degree in financial mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a master's in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London. According to his LinkedIn profile, he interned at Morgan Stanley and McLaren Racing and worked in a Louis Vuitton retail store before joining the company full-time.

Arnault met then President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City, right before Trump's inauguration in 2017, to discuss expanding LVMH factories in the US.

Donald Trump Bernard Arnault
Bernard Arnault has said he and former president Trump have known each other since the 1980s.NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

The company opened a new 100,000-square-foot Louis Vuitton factory in Texas in 2019, the company's third factory in the United States, and Trump attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Arnault told reporters at the ribbon-cutting ceremony that he was honored to have the president in attendance and noted that the two have known each other since the 1980s.

Former Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein once said Arnault's skill is in realizing the demand for high-end luxury products around the world.

Lloyd Blankfein
Former Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein once called Arnault a "complete visionary."Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"I am so far from appreciating luxury items, let alone the demand for luxury items, but he was a complete visionary," Blankfein said of Arnault, according to CNBC.

 

 

Arnault is reportedly longtime friends with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bernard Arnault Nicolas Sarkozy
Bernard Arnault And Nicolas Sarkozy in 1994.Getty Images

He was a witness at Sarkozy's wedding to singer and model Carla Bruni, according to The New York Times.

Arnault can be seen shaking hands with Vladimir Putin during the Russian president's 2003 visit to the Château Cheval Blanc vineyard in France, which LVMH owns.

putin bernard arnault
Russian president Vladimir Putin visits the Château Cheval Blanc on February 12, 2003.Getty Images

The 39-hectare vineyard is located in France's winemaking region of Bordeaux, according to LVMH's website.

Arnault considered the legendary designer and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld a good friend.

designer karl lagerfeld and bernard arnault speak at a fashion event in paris in 2005
Karl Lagerfeld and Bernard Arnault in Paris in 2005.Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

In a statement upon Lagerfeld's death in 2019 posted to LVMH's website, Arnault said, "The death of this dear friend deeply saddens me, my wife and my children." He also said, "We loved and admired him deeply. Fashion and culture have lost a great inspiration."

But Arnault also has a longstanding public rivalry with François Pinault, the founder of luxury group Kering, who's worth about $37 billion.

Francois-Henri Pinault, Kering CEO, walks on sidewalk at Sun Valley resort
Arnault's rival, François Pinault, founder of luxury group Kering.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Kering owns brands including Gucci and Yves St. Laurent, and the billionaire also owns Christie's auction house, according to Bloomberg. LVMH originally tried to acquire a majority stake in Gucci in 1999, but Pinault ultimately snatched up the brand, according to Forbes.

 

 

Over the years, Arnault has built LVMH into the largest luxury conglomerate in the world and earned himself an imposing nickname: "the wolf in the cashmere coat."

bernard arnault
Arnault's nickname is "the wolf in the cashmere coat."Reuters

And he's confident in the luxury empire he's built, once telling the late Steve Jobs that demand for luxury goods like champagne may even outlast the almost $3 trillion dollar tech brand.  

He previously told The New York Times, "Steve Jobs once asked me for some advice about retail, but I said, 'I am not sure at all we are in the same business.' I don't know if we will still use Apple products in 25 years, but I am sure we will still be drinking Dom Pérignon."

He's behind the creation of Foundation Louis Vuitton.

fondation louis vuitton arnault
Arnault and Mercier at Foundation Louis Vuitton.REUTERS/Alain Jocard/Pool

The Frank Gehry-designed contemporary art museum and performance space in Paris opened in 2014, according to The New York Times.  

In April 2019, LVMH released a statement on behalf of the Arnault family, pledging 200 million euros, or about $226 million at the time, to help rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was heavily damaged in a 2019 fire.

notre dame fire
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, in April 2019.REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Arnault was not the only one among France's super rich that pledged funds toward rebuilding the historic structure. Others included his rival, Kering founder François-Henri Pinault, who pledged about $113 million, and L'Oreal owners the Bettencourt Meyers family, who pledged about $226 million.

 

In October 2020, Arnault's company agreed to buy Tiffany & Co. for $15.8 billion in the luxury sector's biggest-ever deal.

Tiffany & Co.
LVMH acquired luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. in 2020.AP Images/Paul Sakuma

The contentious sale involved multiple lawsuits and a $400 million price drop from the price originally agreed upon the previous year.

When it comes to finances, the past few years have been a roller-coaster ride for Arnault and LVMH.

louis vuitton store
Customers visit French luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton's store at the Times Square shopping mall in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.Budrul Chukrut/Getty Images

In January 2019, Arnault made $4.3 billion in a single day after LVMH shares surged 6.9%, according to Bloomberg.

Just six months later, on June 19, 2019, Arnault again made news when he became the third person in the world to reach a $100 billion net worth.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and pandemic-related shutdowns sank LVMH's stock, sending Arnault's personal net worth down more than $30 billion by May 2020, according to Bloomberg.

As the world opened up again, though, LVMH's stock recovered, thanks to strong sales in fashion and leather goods and an uptick in alcohol sales, particularly Champagne.

And the post-pandemic years have been good for the company. So far in 2023: it recorded 42,240 billion euros in revenue in the first half of the year, up 15% from the same period last year, according to a mid-year report from LVMH. Profit from recurring operations, too, is up 13% from the first half of 2022, the report noted.

At the tail end of 2022, Arnault dethroned Elon Musk, and claimed the top spot as the richest man in the world.

LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault smiles while standing outside
Arnault is the second richest man in the world with a networth of around $167 billion, according to the latest estimates from Bloomberg.CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images

This April, his net worth even surpassed the $200 billion mark making him the third person ever, behind Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, to do so.

He's since toppled back down to second, and is worth about $167 billion, according to the latest estimates from Bloomberg.

 

LVMH's headquarters in Paris were briefly stormed by protestors in April who are opposed to the French government's proposal to raise the country's retirement age from 62 to 64.

A group of protesters with flares and recording equipment pushing their way into LVMH's headquarters.
Protestors entering LVMH headquarters on the Rue Montaigne in Paris.Lewis Joly/AP Photo

On the same day, Arnault's fortune increased by $12 billion.

 

Arnault reportedly meets with his five children for a monthly lunch in the private dining room at LVMH to instruct them on the company's strategy and manager performance.

Delphine Arnault with her brothers and Bernard Arnault sit front row at a fashion show
From left: Alexandre Arnault, Antoine Arnault, Delphine Arnault, and Bernard Arnault.Vianney Le Caer/AP

And much like the HBO series "Succession," there has been considerable speculation about which of Arnault's children will eventually take over the LVMH empire. Arnault, however, said he's taught his kids to prize the company over personal disagreements from a young age. "For now, they all get on great," he previously said.

French prosecutors have been investigating Arnault in a money laundering probe for his dealings with Russian businessman, Nikolai Sarkisov.

Courchevel
Arnault is under investigation by French prosecutors for his dealings with Russian businessman Nikolai Sarkisov.Peter Turnley / Contributor/Getty Images

Officials are looking into real estate transactions between Arnault and Sarkisov in the French ski resort of Courchevel, where it seemed as if Sarkisov reportedly purchased multiple properties using intermediary companies, but the end-buyer turned out to be Arnault. The French billionaire allegedly paid Sarkisov roughly €20 million, while Sarkisov turned over a €2 million profit. Arnault has reportedly been under investigation since last year.

Arnault has been pretty vague about who will eventually take the reins of the company.

Bernard Arnault and children
Arnault with his daughter, Dior CEO Delphine, and son, Alexandre, who was previously the CEO of Rimowa and is now an executive at Tiffany & Co.Bertrand Rindoff Petroff / Contributor

"The best person inside the family or outside the family should be one day my successor," he's previously said. "But it's not something that I hope is a duel for the near future."

And he's also brushed off comparisons to a Succession-style battle between his children for control of LVMH. The New York Times reported that "he hates this talk, and takes pains to play down parallels to the show."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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