Bernard Jean étienne Arnault, the chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LVMH, the world's largest luxury-goods company, is currently the richest person in France, with an estimated net worth of $5.9 billion. He was dubbed the ‘Pope of Fashion’ by Women’s Wear Daily. Here are some very interesting facts about the French business magnate:
He was born Bernard Jean Etienne Arnault, on March 05, 1949, in Roubaix, France. He is the only son of Marie Josephe Arnault and Jean Leon Arnault, the owner of civil engineering company, Ferret-Savinel.
He did schooling at Maxence Van Der Meersch High School, Roubaix and graduated with Engineering Degree from Ecole Polytechnique, an institution of higher education and research in Paliaiseau, in 1971.
After his graduation he joined his father in his business. With the plan for the company’s growth the construction division of the company was liquidated for 40 million French francs to focus in more lucrative business.
In 1974, he became the director of the company development and on his instance the company diversified its business into real estate. The company was renamed Ferinel, and became very successful with specialty in holiday accommodation.
He grew with the company to become its CEO in 1977 and in 1979 he succeeded his father to head it as president of the company.
In 1981, when French Socialists rose to power he migrated to United States, along with his wife and two children. He prospered developing condominiums in Palm Beach, Florida. He also developed US branch of his family’s property business.
In 1983 he returned to France in favorable circumstances and befriended Antoine Bernheim, managing partner of the investment firm of Lazard Freres. In 1984, he bought a nearly bankrupt company, Agache-Willot-Boussac, which was into retailing fashion and manufacturing. He invested just $ 15 million and Bernheim arranged rest of $ 80 million.
He renamed the company ‘Financiere Agache,’ and he became the CEO of ‘Financiere Agache’ and took control Bon Marche,’ Left Bank Departmental Store, ‘Conforama,’ the retailing chain, Dior fashion house and ‘Peaudouce,’ a leading manufacturing of disposable diapers.
He nearly sold all the company’s assets, keeping only the prestigious Christian Dior and Le Bon Marche. He sold some ailing operations and cut costs in others and earned $ 112 million on revenue.
In 1987, he bought ‘Celine,’ a clothing and leather goods company and roped in young designer Christian Lacroix, who was the sensation of Paris fashion.
In July 1988, with investment of $ 1.5 billion, he forged a deal and formed a holding with Guinness that held 24% of LVMH’s shares.
He spent another $ 1.1 billion by January 1989, to gain control with total of 43.5% of LVMH and with 35% voting rights, he achieved the ‘Blocking Minority’ to stop dismantlement of the LNMH group.
Arnault’s delicate frame, waxy, boyish face and oversized eyebrows at first earned him the nickname ‘Tintin,’ after the Belgian cartoon character. Later, some French magazine called him ‘The Terminator.’
On January 13, 1989, he was unanimously elected chairman of the executive management board. He led the company with an ambitious development plan and transformed it into one of the largest luxury group.
He promoted decentralizing of decision making of the group’s brand with its own entity. The LVMH market value grew eleven fold and the sales and profit rose by 500%.
In November 2007, he bought ‘Les Echos’ the largest selling business newspaper for € 240 million. His earlier venture with French economic newspaper ‘La Tribune,’ did not produce desired result and sold it.
Arnault became as one of the richest man in France, with 70 brand strong empire that include Christine Dior, Dom Peringnon, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Celine Fendi and Sephora.
He realized the importance of brand value while visiting US for the first time as a 21 year old when the taxi driver he hired, identified France with Christian Dior than with any think else.
In 1993, Arnault bought ‘Kenzo’ and ‘Berluti,’ that manufactures and retails menswear. In 2012, the Berluti acquired Paris tailor house Arny’s and launched its first ‘pret-a-porter menswear collection.
In April 1994, Arnault, as the Chairman of the LVMH, expanded his perfume empire with the purchase of controlling stakes in Guerlain, the perfume and cosmetic company.
In 1999, he hired ‘Christian de Portzamparc,’ winner of the architectural Pritzker Prize in 1994, to design and develop the LVMH Tower in New York. The 23 story glass tower on East 57th Street as a landmark on the Manhattan skyline was opened in December 1999.
With the aim to be contemporary, modern, to make the brand speak a universal language, he bought ‘Loewe’ in 1996 and followed it with ‘Marc Jacobs’ and ‘Sephora’ in 1997.
Starting in 1990s he amassed an empire of indulgence, purchasing dozens of luxury-goods makers, such as Thomas Pink, Emilio Pucci and Fendi, DKNY and La Samaritaine,
In 2008, he acquired ‘Princess Yachts’ one of the Britain’s largest luxury motorboat manufacturers for € 253 million. Later he went on to acquire ‘Royal Van Lent’ in 2008.
In 2007, Arnault was named Commander of the ‘Legion of Honour,’ France’s highest order and Grand Officer of the French Legion of Honor in 2011.
He was featured in ‘Time’ magazine’s annual Time 100 issue as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Arnault married Anne Dewavrin in 1973 and the couple was blessed with a daughter Delphine and a son Antoine. He divorced her in 1990, to marry a Canadian pianist Helene Mercier-Arnault from Quebec in 1991. They have three sons, Alexandre, Frederic and Jean.
On April 10, 2013, he announced that he has abandoned his application for Belgian citizenship saying he did not want the move to be misinterpreted as a measure of tax evasion.
On October 20, 2014, the building of the ‘Louis Vuitton Foundation’ was inaugurated. The $ 143 million museum in Paris was started as a cultural center sponsored by the group LVMH. Arnault is a noted art collector and started ‘The LVMH Young Fashion Designer’ as an international competition for students.
His company is engaged in a number of philanthropic activities. It supports humanitarian, scientific and medical research organizations.