LVMH’s Bernard Arnault Is the King of Luxury, but Who Is Next to the Throne?

LVMH’s Bernard Arnault Is the King of Luxurious, however Who Is Subsequent to the Throne?

One afternoon in July, not lengthy after being named the wealthiest man on the planet by Forbes, Bernard Arnault, the pinnacle of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxurious items empire, took his place on a stage with a view of the Eiffel Tower earlier than a packed crowd of French dignitaries and reporters.

Within the entrance row sat 4 of his 5 grownup youngsters — the fifth was watching from New York, the place he’s an govt at Tiffany & Firm. Their father had raised all of them since they may stroll to at some point run the LVMH conglomerate.

The event was Mr. Arnault’s announcement that LVMH would supply 150 million euros (about $161 million) to sponsor the 2024 Paris Olympics. LVMH firms will play a starring function. Chaumet, a Paris jeweler whose shoppers as soon as included Napoleon’s spouse Joséphine, will design the Olympic medals, and Moët Hennessy wines will circulation in hospitality suites.

“The partnership will assist promote France all through the world,” Mr. Arnault declared. As tv cameras zoomed in, his eldest son, Antoine, the pinnacle of communications and picture for LVMH, uttered what may very well be a tagline for this big firm his father has constructed: “For a dream, there isn’t any value.”

It was a second of public triumph for Mr. Arnault, an indication of how embedded within the material of France LVMH has turn out to be. Over greater than 30 years, he has cast LVMH into the world’s largest luxurious group and probably the most priceless firm in France, with a presence in 81 international locations. His manufacturers — 75 of them — are the celebs of the luxurious world, together with Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Tiffany and Dom Pérignon Champagne. It has given him entree to prime ministers and presidents, and allowed him to amass a museum-worthy artwork assortment.

However his success has introduced challenges. In France, Mr. Arnault has turn out to be a lightning rod for anger over rising financial inequality. In April, 10 days after Forbes put him atop its annual listing of richest folks, protesters stormed his workplace in Paris throughout nationwide strikes over elevating the retirement age. His effigy was burned as an emblem of capitalist evil.

Mr. Arnault’s 5 youngsters had been taught in France’s finest colleges and raised to take management posts within the enterprise, however his dream of retaining LVMH within the household might pressure him to raise one above the remainder.

And in latest months LVMH’s inventory has taken a beating, down 19 p.c since hitting a excessive in April. The corporate reported a dip in U.S. gross sales within the second quarter, and the Chinese language financial system, a giant supply of LVMH’s income, is faltering.

The falling shares imply that Mr. Arnault (now price about $195 billion, Forbes says) dropped to the second-richest individual on the planet in June, eclipsed by Elon Musk. This month, LVMH was changed as Europe’s most useful firm by Denmark’s Novo Nordisk, the maker Ozempic and Wegovy, the vastly widespread medicine getting used for weight reduction.

At 74, Mr. Arnault has been working to verify his firm — created by gobbling up many European luxurious homes that had been weakened by bickering household homeowners — will keep firmly in his household’s palms, secure from company raiders like himself. Final yr, he persuaded the board to lift the necessary retirement age for the chief govt and chairman to 80, from 75, and created a company construction that ensures the household’s management of LVMH, locking in his youngsters — every of whom has been named to extremely seen positions throughout the firm — because the chief determination makers.

Mr. Arnault has broadened LVMH past extravagant playthings into the world of experiences, buying over 50 grand accommodations and resorts. And with the Olympics deal, he has prolonged his tentacles extra deeply into the world of sports activities.

Mr. Arnault’s adjustments imply he doesn’t need to retire subsequent yr as initially anticipated. That hasn’t stopped hypothesis about whether or not he can make sure that his heirs — who costume in virtually similar Dior navy fits (save for Delphine, his one daughter, who usually wears Dior skirts) — keep away from a “Succession”-like drama.

The French media is stuffed with headlines evaluating the Arnaults to the Roys, the fictional household within the HBO sequence. There are TikTok movies explaining why the Arnaults are “the true ‘Succession’ household.” The household hates this discuss, and takes pains to minimize parallels to the present.

The eldest sibling is Delphine, 48, chairman and chief govt of Christian Dior Couture and a member of the LVMH govt committee and its board. Antoine, 46, is just not solely in control of the group’s picture and sustainability efforts however chief govt of its males’s put on model Berluti, chairman of the Italian luxurious home Loro Piana, chief govt of Christian Dior S.E. and a member of the LVMH board. Each are from Mr. Arnault’s first marriage, to Anne Dewavrin. The youngest three are from Mr. Arnault’s second marriage, to Hélène Mercier, a Canadian live performance pianist: Alexandre, 31, is govt vp of product and communications at Tiffany; Frédéric, 28, is chief govt of Tag Heuer; and Jean, 24, is Louis Vuitton’s watch director.

In a uncommon interview in LVMH’s discreetly lavish headquarters in Paris — this text is the primary for which Mr. Arnault and his youngsters have agreed to speak on the report to a global newspaper — Mr. Arnault dismissed any comparability to tv’s Roys with a wave of his hand.

“It’s not an obligation, nor inevitable, {that a} child is my successor,” he mentioned, leaning again in a buttery leather-based chair at a spherical desk in his non-public convention room. On one wall was a Picasso; on two others, Warhols. His son Antoine, in his function as picture gatekeeper, sat throughout the desk.

Mr. Arnault was carrying a white shirt, a blue tie, a navy jacket and black slacks, although lately he’s normally and not using a tie, Antoine mentioned, a part of a extra informal uniform that has accompanied new efforts to have interaction with the skin world. The youngsters have been instrumental in pushing their father to be extra open concerning the conglomerate.

“One of the best individual contained in the household or exterior the household ought to be at some point my successor,” Mr. Arnault continued. “Nevertheless it’s not one thing that I hope is a duel for the close to future.”

Nonetheless, legacy is clearly on Mr. Arnault’s thoughts. He grew up in Roubaix, as soon as a booming textile middle in northern France, and watched household industrial dynasties collapse as youngsters or grandchildren took their eyes off the enterprise or squandered inheritances.

“After one or two generations, it broke down as a result of they’d it too simple,” he mentioned. It was a mistake he vowed to not make along with his personal youngsters. “I didn’t need them to start out going to huge events,” Mr. Arnault mentioned. “I made them work.”

Each month, the 5 siblings meet with their father over lunch on the highest ground of LVMH’s headquarters.

For an hour and a half, they talk about enterprise, together with funds, the curve of the bracelet on a brand new €50,000 Vuitton watch, upcoming product introductions and the social media payoff of over-the-top occasions. For instance, a Vuitton males’s put on present by the model’s new designer, Pharrell Williams, shut down Paris’s Pont Neuf and attracted such names as Kim Kardashian and LeBron James, leading to over 16 million YouTube hits.

“Make no mistake,” Jean mentioned. “We talk about issues, however on the finish, it’s he who decides.”

Amid the bonhomie, the siblings say, Mr. Arnault is gauging how every of his youngsters is measuring up.

A graduate of France’s elite École Polytechnique, Mr. Arnault honed his youngsters’s math abilities almost each evening earlier than dinnertime. Antoine recalled that getting something lower than an ideal grade on vital exams “wasn’t acceptable.”

Jean jokes about having “24 years of expertise, as a result of each lunch and dinner was at all times about work.”

Ian Rogers, a former chief digital officer at LVMH, mentioned Alexandre had advised him, “My enterprise schooling began after I was 9, on the breakfast desk.”

By age 10, Delphine was accompanying her father to Dior shops. He has made weekend inspections of LVMH properties in Paris along with his youngsters a routine for greater than three a long time. Alexandre mentioned: “I bear in mind, age 7, considering, ‘Why is he doing this, and why is he asking the identical query to the identical salesperson, each Saturday of the yr?’”

The daddy paired every of his youngsters with a mentor as they entered the enterprise, to show them the manufacturers and monitor their efficiency. Delphine and Antoine began in novice positions (Delphine bought Dior fragrance at age 17) earlier than ascending to the C-suite. The three youngest moved extra rapidly into senior roles, “most likely as a result of he feels time is working out and he wants to hurry up the method of studying,” mentioned Pierre-Yves Roussel, a former chief of the LVMH vogue group and the present chief govt of Tory Burch.

All of them perceive that the household itself is now as a lot a model because the manufacturers they personal, and have wasted no time making their presence identified.

In lower than two years at Tiffany, Alexandre helped seal a take care of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, making a social media sensation. (In 2016, Alexandre persuaded his father to amass Rimowa, a German maker of aluminum suitcases, which was based in 1898. He instantly set about making the utilitarian baggage firm cool.) Delphine created the LVMH Prize for Younger Style Designers, a high-profile expertise competitors. And Antoine has thrown huge the beforehand closed doorways of many LVMH firms with a sequence of “open days” that invite the general public inside factories and workshops.

Their father by no means compelled them to affix LVMH, the kids mentioned. Even so, Frédéric mentioned, “he discovered a technique to make me wish to give my life to the household enterprise like he did.” (Youngsters from each marriages grew up vacationing collectively, and had been raised to play tennis and piano — their father’s favourite pastimes.)

The clan has gotten larger after two glamorous marriages: Antoine to the mannequin and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, and Alexandre to Géraldine Guyot, who has an equipment model, Destree, that’s unbiased of LVMH. Delphine’s accomplice is a digital entrepreneur and billionaire, Xavier Niel.

When Alexandre wed Geraldine in Venice in 2021, company included Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Roger Federer (who continuously performs tennis with Mr. Arnault). His three brothers had been groomsmen. They share a household group chat, by which they swap child footage.

“I do know it’s disappointing for lots of people,” Antoine mentioned, “however we truly take to each other.”

Mr. Arnault was born right into a development firm run by his father and based by his grandfather, who took him to constructing websites when he was 7.

When Mr. Arnault was 28, his father handed him the keys to the enterprise. He refocused it on actual property, and shortly after moved to New Rochelle, N.Y., to increase in an setting friendlier to entrepreneurs than socialist France.

It was the period of the company raider, and Mr. Arnault soaked within the extra aggressive strategy to mergers and acquisitions. When he returned to Paris at 35, after a quite unsuccessful run growing condominiums in Palm Seaside, Fla., he got here again as a barbarian on the gate — and with a brand new thought: A New York cabdriver had advised him that he didn’t know the identify of France’s president, “however I do know Dior!”

Because it occurred, the French authorities wished to unload a bankrupt textile conglomerate that included Dior. Mr. Arnault purchased it for 1 franc, fired 9,000 folks and discarded all the things besides Dior, which he then used to assist finance a brutal takeover of LVMH, a gaggle not too long ago shaped from the baggage maker Louis Vuitton and the Moët Hennessy Champagne and cognac home.

The battle for LVMH made his popularity. Enlisted by Henry Racamier, one among LVMH’s founders, to purchase shares and stop one other group from gaining management, Mr. Arnault did as he was requested, however didn’t cease. He in the end turned the tables, seized management of LVMH and compelled out Mr. Racamier, who mentioned on the time, “We wish to discover a modus vivendi, however it’s arduous with an individual like that.”

His model despatched shock waves by means of the clubby world of French enterprise, the place he turned referred to as “the Wolf in Cashmere.” It was the start of a three-decade spree of empire constructing. He pursued family-owned manufacturers identified for craftsmanship and elegance: Pucci, Fendi, Celine, Loro Piana. Some had been completely happy to be purchased out; some weren’t. Losses had been uncommon: Gucci and Hermès slipped by means of his fingers after ugly public battles.

Throughout Mr. Arnault’s takeover of Tiffany in 2020, because the pandemic harm earnings, he was accused of enlisting the French authorities’s assist to delay the deal’s closing, and in the long run gained a reduction on the negotiated value. (At $16 billion, it stays the luxurious sector’s greatest deal.)

He has expanded LVMH into luxurious hospitality in recent times. LVMH’s holdings embrace the Cipriani lodge in Venice, the Orient Categorical prepare and the “21” Membership in New York. There are eating places in flagship shops for Tiffany and Dior, and a brand new four-story Moët cocktail bar in Paris.

Mr. Arnault’s bets have normally paid off. Luxurious, in all its varieties, has been one of the resilient investments on Wall Road within the final decade.

“He was at all times saying, ‘The iPhone is nice, however who is aware of if we might be utilizing an iPhone in 10 years?’” Mr. Rogers, the previous chief digital officer, mentioned. “‘Whereas I do know folks will proceed to drink Dom Pérignon.’”

“We’re like Henry Kissinger,” Mr. Arnault mentioned. “We’re not there to agree or disagree on the political facet of the nation by which we’re doing enterprise.”

Mr. Arnault insisted repeatedly through the interview that his essential objective was not income. “It’s desirability,” he mentioned, “and we should make it possible for in 50 years we’re nonetheless on the high.”

“Desirability,” mentioned Mr. Roussel, the previous LVMH govt, is the most well-liked phrase on the firm. Nevertheless it highlights a possible drawback, he mentioned: “A client waking up and saying, ‘You understand, I’m shopping for this product, however there’s somebody making a lot cash out of it.’”

“Is it fascinating that you simply’re shopping for a product from somebody who’s the richest man on the planet?”

That sentiment was not evident this summer time when Mr. Arnault visited China, one among LVMH’s most profitable markets. The “richest man” headlines from months earlier earned him a rock star’s welcome. In Shanghai and Chengdu, crowds adopted him and vied for selfies. Moms requested him to bless their infants.

“Just like the pope. Are you able to consider that?” he mentioned. He was referred to as, he mentioned with fun, “the God of Fortune.”

However again residence, the place ardour about social and monetary inequality stretches again to the French Revolution, Mr. Arnault is a divisive determine: hailed by the enterprise and political worlds for constructing France’s greatest company titan, and reviled by others for his virtually unimaginable wealth.

For a household that tries to maintain its fortune discreet, the “richest man” rating this yr nonetheless brings an unwelcome highlight.

“The eye that you simply get while you’re on the highest of that listing,” Antoine mentioned, “you possibly can’t actually put together for that.”

In April, as France’s raucous nationwide protests gathered steam over President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to lift the retirement age two years to 64, demonstrators broke into the LVMH headquarters, lighting smoke bombs and denouncing Mr. Arnault because the embodiment of the ultrarich.

“He’s an emblem of what’s unsuitable on this society!” one shouted. Others carried indicators displaying Mr. Arnault as Mr. Monopoly in a high hat, with accusations that he evaded taxes, exploited employees and laid off 1000’s to construct energy and wealth.

This month, when Mr. Arnault introduced that the Arnault household would donate €10 million to Restos du Coeur, a meals financial institution, critics mentioned it was a drop within the bucket.

“They should discover a sort of enemy,” Mr. Arnault mentioned. “France is just not a rustic which is motivated by enterprise success, not like america.”

When his buddy Warren Buffett walks round Manhattan, Mr. Arnault added, “he’s like a Beatle.” However when Mr. Arnault visits his shops in France, “I’ve to watch out,” he mentioned. “I don’t like this, however I would like bodyguards.”

Antoine has suggested his father to push again, and lately Mr. Arnault stresses the corporate’s financial contributions: tons of of 1000’s of jobs created worldwide, €5.5 billion paid yearly in French taxes, and huge sums for artwork and tradition, vitality sustainability, scientific analysis, sports activities and youths.

What nobody debates is that Mr. Arnault understood, earlier than virtually anybody else, luxurious’s potential as a generator of revenue — that creating lovely issues is about aspiration and belonging.

The query now’s who can preserve desirability on the coronary heart of LVMH in an age of protests and international financial uncertainty.

Final yr, Mr. Arnault tinkered with the company construction of his empire, concentrating decision-making along with his 5 youngsters. Every has a 20 p.c stake, and so they can not promote their shares for 30 years with out unanimous board approval.

His heirs “have been schooled by one of the best participant on the planet: All of them know the enterprise,” mentioned Sidney Toledano, head of the LVMH vogue group and one among Mr. Arnault’s longest-serving executives. “Are they going to be the pilots? Possibly.”

If the subsequent chief govt is just not named Arnault, the kids say they’re OK with that. In spite of everything, Alexandre mentioned, “there’s the danger that none of us is ready to run the enterprise in addition to he has.”

The siblings are starting to debate how they will elevate their very own youngsters with the identical sense of obligation that was instilled in them, Delphine mentioned. Mr. Arnault has begun taking her elementary-school-age daughter on his weekend rounds of shops.

However Alexandre added: “By the point they attain ages the place they will have duties, my father will nonetheless most likely be C.E.O. of LVMH. He’ll be 110 years outdated.”

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