How did Bernard Arnault build his fortune to become the richest man in the world?

Bernard Arnault is the richest man in the world. The famous French luxury tycoon – who has even hinted in the past that he might buy AC Milan – has long topped this special list. This is the answer annual ranking of the world’s richest men compiled by Forbes magazine : According to an American magazine, Bernard Arnault would overtake Elon Musk and the head of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

According to Forbes estimates, Arnault could count on a personal fortune of $233 billion in 2024, more than $20 billion more than last year. After all, the LVMH colossus, of which he is the largest shareholder and CEO, reached a a turnover of 86.2 billion euros in 2023. But who really is Bernard Arnault and how did he become the richest man in the world? We invite you to discover the biography and private life of the French tycoon.

The richest of the rich: Arnault ahead of Musk and Bezos

Bernard Arnault is the richest man in the world according to Forbes. The owner of luxury companies such as Louis Vuitton and Moet & Chandon, through the holding company LVMH, currently has a fortune of 233 billion dollars. Despite the pandemic, his bank account has soared in recent years, if we consider that in 2021 the magazine estimated his fortune at 150 billion.

In a special ranking of the richest people in the world, established by an American magazine, Bernard Arnault precedes Elon Musk neither more nor less (195 billion) and Jeff Bezos (194 billion).

Bernard Arnault’s fortune has seen record growth in recent years thanks to the rise of LVMH shares: a sharp rise in the stock market would bring Arnault at least $600 million in a single day. So the pandemic does not seem to have affected its business: if LVMH recorded a turnover of 53.7 billion euros in 2019, in 2021 the group’s revenues reached 64.2 billion euros, before reaching 56.5 billion euros in 2022.

LVMH’s latest balance is a record: in 2023, the luxury giant recorded a turnover of 86.2 billion euros and net profit of 22.8 billion euros.

But how did he create this authentic empire? In 1971 he started working as an engineer in the family construction company Ferret-Savinel. Bernard convinced his father to sell the company to transform it into the real estate development company Férinel, thus entering the tourist apartment sector and showing insight and initiative very early on.

In 1978 Bernard succeeds his father in leading Férinel and became its president, but his rise was halted by the rise of French socialists to government in 1981 with Mitterrand. Arnault and his family are then forced to settle in the United States.

Abroad, Bernard managed to maintain and increase his capital: builds condos in Palm Beach, Florida, and eventually created the American branch of his company. After only two years, in 1983, as the French Socialists moved to more conservative politics, Arnault decided to return to his beloved France. As we said, Arnault’s rise is very much connected to his country. On French soil, Bernard actually managed to buy Boussac Saint-Frères, a textile company in bankruptcy and the source of bitter political clashes.

For group possession, Arnault will invest $15 million and risk much of the wealth accumulated over the years. During this operation, he met Antoine Bernheim, who was his mentor and taught him the ruthless system of holding companies.

Bernheim managed to get the remaining $80 million to own the Boussac group. Once in possession of the failing group, Arnault takes over all activities. He saved almost nothing, caused numerous protests and discontent and had to pay back part of the 51.5 million euros he benefited from at the behest of the Brussels Commission. But these setbacks do not stop Bernard Arnault: the businessman has only one goal, to own the Christian Dior brand. Smart and determined, he achieved this in 1985 by becoming the CEO of the symbol of luxury and fashion.

From then on, his journey continued to rise. With great liquidity, an intuitive business sense and an educated Bernheim in a holding system with which he was able to control companies without being at the helm, he became famous for his forays into the stock markets with which he takes over brands, better managers and which allow the difference in the contrasts between shareholders. In 1988, the French tycoon took control of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennesy), of which he became the first shareholder, then the majority shareholder the following year, before being elected chairman and CEO.

Arnault is credited with believing and creating with LVMH a gigantic luxury group in several segments: leather goods and clothing houses, subordinates of Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon champagne and Hennesy cognac. LVMH’s rise continued throughout the 1990s and in 2000 to strengthen the group’s position by acquiring companies, first Guerlain perfumes (1994), then Loewe (1996), Marc Jacobs (1997), Sephora (1997) and Thomas Pink (1999).

LVMH brings together more than sixty brands under its roof: the aforementioned Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Krug, Ardbeg and Glenmorangie whiskeys, Belvedere vodka, but also Italian brands Emilio Pucci, Bulgari, Fendi, Loro Piana and Cova.

Who is Bernard Arnault: biography of the French billionaire

Bernard Arnault was born on March 5, 1949 in Roubaix, France, where he attended the local high school before continuing his studies at the École Polytechnique. Arnault was married twice. From 1973 to 1990, he was linked to Anne Dewavrin, the mother of two of his five children: Delphine and Antoine. In 1991 he married Hélène Mercier-Arnault, his current wife, an excellent pianist, with whom he had Rimowa, Frédéric and Jean. He teaches his children his job by leading them to control the group to one day hand over the entire estate to him.

Over time he became friends with politicians from France and elsewhere, Nicolas Sarkozy, at whose wedding he was the best manTo Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister. He was appointed Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor for services rendered to the French nation. Arnault is a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters and is a large and distinguished art collector. In 2006, he created one of the most important art foundations of today: the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which received museum status in 2014.

He also made numerous donations to the art world and got involved in philanthropic events with Save the Children, the Fondation des Hôpitaux de Paris and the Princess Grace of Monaco Foundation. During the coronavirus crisis, he had three of his perfumeries converted to produce hand sanitizers, which were then distributed free of charge to the health system.

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