15. Bernard Arnault

Luxury baron of LVMH

Benjamin Wachenje
"A good product can last forever."

Chairman and CEO, LVMH
Born: March 5, 1949, Roubaix, France
Education: Degree in engineering, École Polytechnique

Bernard Arnault converted the uneasy merger of Moët Hennessy and Louis Vuitton in the mid-80s into the world's most successful luxury goods group, LVMH, which had sales of $39 billion last year. Its 60 brands comprise wines and spirits, fashion and leather goods, perfume and cosmetics, and watches and jewelry, with names including Louis Vuitton, Thomas Pink, TAG Heuer and Dom Pérignon Champagne.

Though his direct share of LVMH is less than 7 percent, Arnault controls the holding through his family's ownership of fashion house Christian Dior, which owns 40.9 percent of LVMH. That gives him a 46.5 percent stake, according to LVMH's annual report. Bloomberg estimates Arnault's worth at $32.6 billion.

His other assets include shares in publicly traded supermarket chain Carrefour, Europe's largest food retailer, and a resort in the French Alps. He once owned a stake in the Château Cheval Blanc winery in Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, but sold it to LVMH in 2009 for $350 million. He owns the French business newspaper "Les Échos" and took a small stake in then-2-year-old Netflix in 1999. He was an early investor in the Internet and e-commerce through Europatweb, a short-lived investment fund that was a casualty of the dot-com bust.

Arnault, who grew up in his family's real estate development business, acquired his interest in Christian Dior in 1984. That's when he took over Financière Agache, a holding company for Boussac, a bankrupt textile company whose businesses included department store Le Bon Marché, retailer Conforama and diapers maker Peaudouce. Arnault divested everything except Christian Dior and Le Bon Marché.

At that point, Louis Vuitton held the rights to Dior perfumes, which Arnault wanted. Backed by the Irish brewing group Guinness (later part of Diageo), he took a 24 percent stake in LVMH in 1988 and added a further 13.5 percent later that year to make him the largest single shareholder. The following year, after increasing his stake to 43.5 percent, he became LVMH's chairman and CEO.

Arnault set about expanding LVMH via acquisition, adding ready-to-wear fashion house Céline in 1988, shoemaker Berluti and Japanese fashion brand Kenzo in 1993, and the perfumer Guerlain in 1994. He followed up with Spanish leatherwear maker Loewe in 1996, and New York fashion brand Marc Jacobs and cosmetics retailer Sephora in 1997. He bought Thomas Pink in 1999, Italian fashion house Emilio Pucci in 2000, and two more fashion houses, Fendi and DKNY, as well as the French department store La Samaritaine in 2001. He took a stake in Hermès, the silk scarf and saddle maker, in 2010 and a controlling interest in Italian jeweler Bulgari the following year. His most recent purchase was textiles maker Loro Piana in 2013.

The one that got away? Gucci. The Italian luxury leather accessories house rebuffed Arnault's overtures in 1999.

Though he sits at the center of this galaxy of brands, Arnault runs a decentralized group and gives each LVMH company considerable autonomy. The 64-year-old shows no sign of slowing down but has said he expects a family member to succeed him. Two of his five children appear as the most likely candidates: son Antoine, who has been tasked with turning Berluti into a major menswear brand, and daughter Delphine, an executive at Louis Vuitton.

Bernard Arnault: Lifelong highlights

  • Made a Grand Officer of France's Legion of Honor in 2011
  • Married to French-Canadian concert pianist Hélène Mercier
  • Art collection includes works by Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso
  • Owned the art auction house Phillips de Pury from 1999 to 2003
  • Applies for Belgian citizenship in 2012, sparking French tax debate; withdraws application the next year
  • Commissioned Christian de Portzamparc to design critically acclaimed LVMH Tower in New York, opened in 1999

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