Bernard Arnault, the billionaire who mixes luxury and ruthless insight

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Bernard Arnault, CEO and Chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has once again become the richest man in the world. The luxury mogul took over from Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and CEO of Blue Origin. The 72-year-old Frenchman has held the title of richest man in the world four times, briefly in December 2019, January 2020, May 2021 and July 2021.

With a current net worth of $ 199.8 billion, Arnault has traded places with Bezos as well as Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Arnault is the only billionaire, an individual with a net worth of over $ 100 billion, who has not made a fortune from software or technology.

As the owner of the LVMH conglomerate, he controls more than 70 luxury brands, including Givenchy, Guerlain, Marc Jacobs, Tiffany & Co, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, Loro Piana, Nicholas Kirkwood, Thomas Pink, RM Williams, EDUN, Moynat, Donna Karan, TAG Heuer, De Beers and Bulgari. The group is the most valued company in Europe with a market capitalization of over $ 400 billion.

But Arnault started with none of them.

Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault was born on March 5, 1949 in the French town of Roubaix, near the Belgian border, just a few years after the ravages of World War II had ended and reconstruction efforts were in full swing. Graduated in 1971 from the École Polytechnique, the first engineering school in France, Arnault joined his father’s construction company, Ferret-Savinel.

Showing his business acumen from an early age, Arnault convinced his father to sell the company’s industrial construction division to focus on real estate and soon after took over from his father as president of this new company called Ferinel. Thanks to his numerous acquisitions, Arnault will also later sell the real estate business.

In 1984, Arnault succeeded in acquiring the bankrupt conglomerate Boussac Saint-Frères, an entity which owned Christian Dior. Boussac was bankrupt and the French government was looking for someone to save the ailing company.

Arnault would later declare in interviews that his mother, Marie Josèphe Savinel, had a “fascination with Dior”. It is perhaps for this reason that Arnault sold all the assets of the empire of Boussac, to keep only Christian Dior. A few years after its management, the company returned to profit. It was here that he got the nickname “Cashmere Wolf”, signifying his ruthless and efficient business acumen in an otherwise luxurious world.

From there, Arnault ousted and then took control of the new luxury conglomerate LVMH, created by Moët Hennessy and Louis Vuitton. Over the years, Arnault, with his keen sense of luxury, has acquired numerous brands to merge with LVMH, including Tiffany & Co, the American jeweler, for an amount of $ 15.8 billion.

Often called the creator of tastes of the world, Arnault’s five children also work with him in various corners of his immense empire. The French magnate also received the honorary titles of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor and Commander of Arts and Letters. His recent increase in fortune is due to increased sales of luxury goods and the steady pace at which he has purchased shares of LVMH in his own name. The French tycoon has a 47.5% stake in Europe’s most valuable company.

But it remains to be seen whether Arnault will be able to hang on to first place longer this time around. As the mogul himself says, it’s all about 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 ‘expect something and get it at the right time. “

(Edited by : Shoma bhattacharjee)

First publication: STI


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