Bernard Arnault, the chairman of French luxury goods giant LVMH (LVMHF), has just become the first European to top Bloomberg’s list of the world’s richest people, relegating Elon Musk to second place.
Now worth $171 billion, Arnault’s wealth eclipsed the Tesla CEO’s $164 billion fortune on Tuesday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Arnault had already ousted Musk from the top spot on Forbes’ list of “Real Time Billionaires” last week.
Musk’s net worth has tumbled by $107 billion this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Arnault’s wealth, which stems from his controlling stake in LVMH, has suffered a more modest $7 billion decline.
The divergence is partly down to the stock performance of the companies in which the pair own shares. Musk’s purchase of Twitter (TWTR) hasn’t helped either. Still, he is in no imminent danger of falling further down the list: His fortune remains comfortably bigger than that of Indian industrialist Gautam Adani ($125 billion) and Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos ($116 billion), who rank third and fourth on Bloomberg’s list.
While Tesla (TSLA)’s share price has plummeted 54% this year, LVMH stock has held steady, supported by robust sales in the United States and Europe. The luxury market has remained relatively steady this year, even as surging inflation has led less-affluent shoppers to change their spending habits. LVMH has a market value of €362.4 billion ($386 billion).
Keeping a low profile
Born in Roubaix in the north of France in 1949, Arnault graduated from the prestigious École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Paris. He began his career in the family-owned construction company, Ferret-Savinel, becoming chairman in 1978 after successive promotions.
Six years later, he got wind that the French government was looking for a new investor to take over Boussac Saint-Freres. The bankrupt textile group owned a key asset: Christian Dior, a celebrated French fashion house.
Arnault bought control of the group, returning it to profitability and embarking on a strategy to develop the world’s leading luxury goods company. “In the process, he reinvigorated Christian Dior as the cornerstone of the new organization,” according to a biography on the LVMH website.
Arnault bought a controlling stake in LVMH in 1989, two years after the group was formed by the merger of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. He has been chairman and CEO of the company ever since.
Although his own name may not be immediately recognizable to many, the brands that Arnault has been instrumental in growing — from Christian Dior to Dom Pérignon — have become household names.
Over the past three decades, Arnault has turned LVMH into a luxury goods powerhouse with 75 labels selling wine, spirits, fashion, leather goods, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, jewelery, luxury travel and hotel stays. He opened China’s first Louis Vuitton store in Beijing in 1992.
In January 2021, the group completed its $15.8 billion takeover of iconic US jeweler Tiffany & Co, the luxury industry’s biggest ever acquisition.
Arnault’s philanthropic endeavors are pursued mainly through LVMH, which focuses its patronage on arts and culture. In 2019, the group donated €200 million ($212 million) to help rebuild Notre Dame after a massive fire ripped through the Paris cathedral.
Arnault has long held the title of Europe’s richest person, but the 73-year old keeps a much lower profile than Musk and isn’t personally active on any major social media platforms. In October, he told the LVMH-owned Radio Classique that he sold his private jet because he had been Twitter-shamed over his frequent use of the plane.
Arnault is married and has five children, all of whom currently work at LVMH or one of its brands, according to Bloomberg.