Forbes ranking: Bernard Arnault richer than Elon Musk

Became with his family the first fortune in the world ahead of Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault patiently built together with LVMH (minority shareholder in Challenges, editor’s note) a global luxury empire, from fashion to spirits, through emblematic acquisitions that have built his reputation as a formidable and insatiable businessman. The 73-year-old Frenchman and his family have risen, with 184 billion dollars, to the top of the Forbes ranking of the largest fortunes in the world for several days due to an erosion of the fortune of Elon Musk, head of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter.

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Luxury and media

“A primordial quality in our family is patience”, confided Bernard Arnault, at the top of the ranking of Professional Fortunes established by Challenges. Ten years later, when LVMH’s annual turnover had more than doubled to more than 64 billion euros, he declared on Radio Classique: “We can continue to make progress, but let’s be patient, there is no rush”.

LVMH, the world leader in luxury, has more than 75 brands (Louis Vuitton, Moët Hennessy, Kenzo, Guerlain, Fendi, Céline, Sephora, Bulgari, Tiffany after a year of hard negotiations, etc.) acquired over the years. The businessman has also invested in the French press (Les Echos, Le Parisien, Radio Classique, Challenges…) activities that he “would prefer to put on the side of sponsorship”, he assured during a hearing in the Senate in January 2022, where he had also assumed to have intervened to deprive the daily newspaper of advertising funding Liberation, guilty of a cover, who had displeased him.

Christian Dior, the cornerstone of luxury

Born on March 5, 1949 in Roubaix (North), Bernard Arnault began his career by joining his father’s public works company at the age of 22, when he left the Ecole Polytechnique and convinced him to turn it into sales promotion. In 1981, after the election of François Mitterrand, he traveled to the United States, where he stayed for three years. On his return, he bought the debt-ridden textile company Boussac, winning the bet against several serious competitors thanks to his promise to preserve employment. However, he imposes a drastic social plan on Boussac, retaining only a few activities, including the fashion house Christian Dior. He was then 35 years old.

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“My father, I surprised him when I came to see him and told him that we want to reorient the family group and we will try to invest in something more lively, Christian Dior”, he said recently on Radio Classique. Bernard Arnault has just laid the first stone of his luxury empire. To acquire LVMH, resulting from the 1987 merger between the trunk manufacturer Louis Vuitton and the wine and spirits group Moët-Hennessy, Bernard Arnault took advantage of the rivalry between the two ownership families and took the helm of the company in 1989 during the course of… 17 lawsuits. “He is a tough but exceptional negotiator, a visionary who knows how to surround himself and who in the end always achieves his goals one way or another”, sums up Arnaud Cadart, portfolio manager at Flornoy.

Errors and reviews

However, Bernard Arnault’s track is not devoid of failures, as when his great rival François Pinault was at the head of PPR (Pinault Printemps Redoute), which became Kering, 7.e French professional wealth according to Challengesthe Italian brand Gucci whispered to him in 1999. Or when he tries in vain to get his hands on the saddle maker and leather goods manufacturer Hermès, 3e French professional wealth according to Challengesenters his capital masked.

His words are rare. He doesn’t like publicity. This summer, while private jet routes are being tracked on social networks, Bernard Arnault is selling the routes from the LVMH group. “The result now is that no one can know where I’m going because I rent a plane,” he explains on Radio Classique. “It is the lot of French businessmen to embody – sometimes in a completely unjustified way – criticism of the atmosphere, since for some years the mentality has been a bit anti-business”, he lamented on France 2 in 2016. The same year came out. a documentary “Thank you Boss!”, a satirical indictment of Bernard Arnault by François Ruffin, who, now a deputy, still regularly attacks him. In 2021, LVMH will pay a fine of 10 million euros to avoid prosecution in an investigation into a spy system.

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Bernard Arnault had given up applying for Belgian citizenship in 2013 and made his mea culpa, after raising an outcry with this approach for several months, amid a debate about taxation and tax exile for the richest. Bernard Arnault, whose five children work for LVMH and who tours the group’s Parisian brands (Louis Vuitton, Le Bon Marché, etc.) every week, has no intention of handing over the reins immediately. The age limit for his position as CEO of LVMH was extended to 80 at the last general meeting. He has also ensured that his luxury empire remains under family control. His eldest son Antoine Arnault was last week named chief executive of the Christian Dior SE holding company, which controls the world’s leading luxury goods company LVMH.

Bernard Arnault with his wife Hélène (Cg) and their children Antoine (3rd-d), Delphine (4th-d), Alexandre (v) and Frédéric (2nd-g) during the inauguration of the Jean Arnault campus at EDHEC from Roubaix on July 9, 2021 (AFP/Archive – DENIS CHARLET)

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