Bernard Arnault is a French businessman and the Chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, the world’s largest luxury goods company.
On March 5, 1949, Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault was born in Roubaix. His mother, Marie-Josèphe Savinel, was the daughter of Étienne Savinel and had a strong interest in Dior, while his father, Jean Léon Arnault, was a manufacturer and a graduate of École Centrale Paris who owned the civil engineering firm Ferret-Savinel.
Arnault has two children, Delphine and Antoine, with his first wife Anne Dewavrin, but they separated in 1990. He then married Hélène Mercier in 1991, a Canadian concert pianist, with whom he has three children, Alexandre, Frédéric, and Jean.
Arnault and Mercier reside in Paris. All five children, including his niece Stephanie Watine Arnault, have official roles in brands owned by Arnault. Alexandre serves as the EVP of Tiffany & Co, Frédéric is the CEO of TAG Heuer, and Jean is the Director of Marketing and Development at Louis Vuitton.
Delphine has been the partner of Xavier Niel, a French billionaire businessman in the telecommunications and technology industry, since 2010. As of February 1, 2023, she has taken on the role of Chief Executive Officer at Dior, a luxury brand.
After attending the Lycée Maxence Van Der Meersch in Roubaix and the Lycée Faidherbe in Lille, Arnault went on to study at the École Polytechnique, France’s premier engineering school, graduating in 1971. He then started working for his father’s company. Three years later, Arnault convinced his father to pivot the company’s focus to real estate, resulting in the sale of its industrial construction division and a name change from Ferret-Savinel to Ferinel. Following the acquisition of a textile company and the relocation of its headquarters, the real estate branch of the company was renamed the George V Group. The real estate assets were eventually sold to Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE), which later became Nexity.
Bernard Arnault joined Ferret-Savinel in 1971 and became its president from 1978 to 1984. In 1984, he learned that the French government was looking for someone to take over the Boussac Saint-Frères empire, which owned Christian Dior among other assets. With the help of Antoine Bernheim, a senior partner of Lazard Frères, Arnault acquired Financière Agache, a luxury goods company, and subsequently took control of Boussac Saint-Frères by winning a bidding war and buying the group for one franc. Arnault then laid off 9,000 workers and sold almost all of the company’s assets, keeping only the Christian Dior brand and Le Bon Marché department store. By 1987, the company was under his control, and he had acquired the nickname “The Terminator.”
Arnault joined forces with Alain Chevalier, CEO of Moët Hennessy, and Henry Racamier, president of Louis Vuitton, to establish LVMH in 1987. He then formed a holding company with Guinness in 1988, which held 24% of LVMH’s shares. To prevent Louis Vuitton from buying LVMH’s stock to form a “blocking minority”, Arnault spent $600 million to acquire 13.5% more of LVMH. In January 1989, he spent another $500 million to gain control of 43.5% of LVMH’s shares and 35% of its voting rights, giving him the “blocking minority” he needed to stop the dismantlement of the LVMH group. He ousted Racamier from the board of directors and was elected chairman of the executive management board in January 1989.
Arnault led LVMH through an ambitious development plan that transformed the company into one of the world’s largest luxury groups alongside Richemont and Kering. He acquired several luxury brands such as Céline, Berluti, Kenzo, Guerlain, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, Thomas Pink, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, DKNY, and La Samaritaine. In the 1990s, he also built the LVMH Tower in New York and tried to acquire Gucci. Arnault also invested in web companies such as Boo.com, Libertysurf, Zebank, and Netflix through his holding Europatweb.
He has also been involved in private equity through LCapitalAsia and served on the board of advisors for the Malaysian 1MDB fund. Under Arnault’s leadership, LVMH has experienced significant growth and has become the largest company in the eurozone by market capitalization. Despite the company’s size, Arnault has decentralized its brands to maintain their independence and history. In late 2019, LVMH announced plans to acquire Tiffany & Co., but the deal was initially canceled due to the pandemic, and then later completed in 2021 at a slightly reduced price.
Arnault’s personal art collection boasts works by renowned artists such as Picasso, Yves Klein, Henry Moore, and Andy Warhol. He is also recognized for his contributions in making LVMH a major patron of the arts in France. Under his leadership, the LVMH Young Fashion Designer competition was established, which provides financial grants and mentorship to promising students from fine-arts schools seeking to launch their own fashion labels.
In addition to his passion for the arts, Arnault also owned Phillips de Pury & Company, an art auction house, from 1999 to 2003, and acquired the first French auctioneer, Tajan. In 2006, he embarked on the construction of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a building dedicated to contemporary art and designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The Foundation was officially opened in October 2014 at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris.
According to Forbes, his net worth was estimated at $181.6 billion as of February 2023, making him the richest person globally.
Here are some of his notable achievements and awards: