French businessman Bernard Arnault the well-known chairman and CEO of the Parisian conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, oversees 79 luxury products including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Sephora. Called the ‘Pope of Fashion’, and ‘The Wolf in the Cashmere Coat’, Bernard Arnault is known for establishing the empire of Louis Vuitton and luxury brands. Bernard Arnault, the world’s 2nd richest person in 2019, lost USD 30 billion owing to the COVID19 pandemic. Today despite the demand for luxury goods has come crashing down, Arnault remains among the top 5 rich and famous persons in the world with a net worth of USD 86.4 billion, and 4590 shops in 68 countries.
Starting in the Family Business
Bernard Arnault born on March 5, 1949, belonged to an industrial family of Roubaix, France. He attended the Roubaix lycée and the Faidherbe lycée in Lille and later studied Engineering at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. In 1971, upon getting the engineering degree he joined Ferret-Savinel, his father’s construction company. Here he learned the nuances of the business and took up challenging responsibilities to rise in various executive management positions of the firm. From 1978 to 1984, Bernard Arnault served as the President of Ferret-Savinel. In 1978, when he took over as President, he changed the company name from Ferret-Savinel to Férinel Inc. and also included real estate which he envisioned would be a lucrative business in the 80s.
Bernard Arnault, the opportunist and sharp businessman
Bernard Arnault having learned the ropes of the business from his father, had become a sharp businessman himself seeking new opportunities. He entered the luxury goods business in 1985 by putting up USD 15 million from his real estate business to buy the fashion house Christian Dior with co-investor Antoine Bernheim, managing partner of the French bank Lazard Frères and Co. Together the two investors raised the USD 80 million and bought the bankrupt textile company Boussac Saint-Frères, that owned the brand Christian Dior.
In 1984, Antoine Bernheim, a senior partner of Lazard Frères, helped Arnault to acquire Financière Agache, another luxury goods company where Arnault later became the CEO.
In 1987, Henri Racamier, Chairman LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton invited Arnault to invest in the company through a joint venture with Guinness PLC. Arnault invested USD 1.5 billion in 1988. He invested another USD 1,100 million which got him a stake of 43.5% in LVMH shares and 35% in voting rights. On January 13, 1989, he was elected chairman of the executive management board. Since then, Bernard Arnault has led the company through an ambitious development plan, transforming the name LVMH and especially Louis Vuitton into a global luxury brand.
LVMH acquired many luxury goods companies. Some of the well-known names include fashion companies Dior, Christian Lacroix, Givenchy, and Kenzo; leather goods companies Loewe, Céline, and Berluti; jeweler Fred Joailler; duty-free chain DFS group; Champagne Dom Perignon, watches TAG Heuer, and beauty retailer Sephora. Today the LVMH empire houses 79 brands.
The growing curve
Bernard Arnault acquired more companies/brands over the next few years. Some of his acquisitions include,
- 1988 Céline
- 1993 Berluti and Kenzo.
- 1993 bought French economic newspaper La Tribune but sold it in November 2007 to buy another French economic newspaper, Les Échos, for 240 million euros.
- 1994 perfume firm Guerlain
- 1996 Loewe
- 1997 Marc Jacobs and Sephora
- 1999 Thomas Pink
- 2000 Emilio Pucci
- 2001 Fendi, DKNY and La Samaritaine
- 2018 luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. for USD 16.2 billion.
- 2019 Belmond for USD 3.2 billion the company that owns/ manages 46 hotels, trains, and river cruises.
From 1998 to 2001, Arnault also invested in Boo.com, Libertysurf, Zebank and Netflix.
In 1973, Bernard Arnault married Anne Dewavrin, and they had two children, Delphine and Antoine. In 1990, the couple went separate ways and in the following year, Bernard remarried Hélène Mercier, a Canadian concert pianist. Arnault wooed Helene Mercier by playing Chopin and other classical compositions on the piano. Arnault continues to play Chopin his favorite composer, on the Yamaha grand in a room down the hall from his 9th floor office. Bernard and Hélène have three children – Alexandre, Frédéric, and Jean.
His four children Delphine, Antoine, Alexandre, and Frédéric work for LHMV in different roles handling brands Berluti, Loro Piana, Rimova, and TAG Heuer. While the youngest son Jean, is yet to join the family business Delphine, the oldest daughter and heir apparent of LVHM Empire is now the executive vice president at Louis Vuitton.
Arnault is an avid collector of art and owns masterpieces from artists like Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Damien Hirst. He owns a 101.5 m (333 ft) yacht named Symphony and travels in his private jet.
He has rubbed shoulders with the world’s most noted personalities including Lady Diana Princess of Wales, Apple founder Steve Jobs, Karl Lagerfeld, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and President of USA Donald Trump. Today among all these friendships, he has a long-standing public rivalry with Francois Pinault, the owner of French luxury fashion group Kering.
- 2014 The Museum of Modern Art’s David Rockefeller Award
- 2012 Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
- 2011 The Woodrow Wilson Award for Global Corporate Citizenship
- 2011 Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur
- 2007 Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur
- 2007 Time Magazines 100 most influential people in the world.
The Billionaire Believer
“A good product can last forever.” Bernard Arnault