Bernard Arnault, chairman of French luxury goods giant LVMH (LVMHF), just became the first European to top Bloomberg’s list of the richest people in the world, 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 plunged $107 billion this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Arnault’s wealth, which comes from his controlling stake in LVMH, took a more modest $7 billion decline.
The divergence is partly due to the stock performance of the companies in which the pair own shares. Musk’s purchase of Twitter (TWTR) didn’t help either. However, he is not in imminent risk of falling further down the list: his fortune remains vastly superior to that of Indian industrialist Gautam Adani ($125 billion) and Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos ($116 billion), which rank third and fourth on Bloomberg’s list.
While Tesla’s (TSLA) share price has tumbled 54% this year, LVMH’s shares have held steady, supported by robust selling in the US and Europe. The luxury market has remained relatively stable this year, even as rising inflation has led underserved shoppers to change their spending habits. LVMH has a market value of €362.4 billion ($386 billion).
Born in Roubaix, northern France, in 1949, Arnault is a graduate of the prestigious École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Paris. He began his career in the family building firm, Ferret-Savinel, becoming its president in 1978 after successive promotions.
Six years later, he learned 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 famous French fashion house.
Arnault acquires control of the group, bringing it back to profitability and launching a development strategy for the world’s leading company in the luxury goods sector. “Meanwhile, 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 from the merger of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. Since then he has been president and CEO of the company.
While his name may not be instantly recognizable to many, the brands Arnault helped grow – from Christian Dior to Dom Pérignon – have become household names.
Over the past three decades, Arnault has transformed LVMH into a luxury goods powerhouse with 75 labels selling wines, spirits, fashion, leather goods, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, jewelry, luxury travel and hotel stays. He opened the first Louis Vuitton store in China in Beijing in 1992.
In January 2021, the group completed the $15.8 billion acquisition of iconic US jeweler Tiffany & Co, the largest-ever acquisition by the luxury industry.
Arnault’s philanthropic efforts are pursued primarily through LVMH, which focuses its advocacy on arts and culture. In 2019, the group donated 200 million euros ($212 million) to help rebuild Notre Dame after a huge fire ravaged the Paris cathedral.
Arnault has long held the title of Europe’s richest person, but the 73-year-old maintains a much lower profile than Musk and isn’t personally active on any major social media platform. In October, he told the LVMH-owned Radio Classique that he sold his private jet because he was Twitter-shamed for his frequent use of the plane.
Arnault is married with five children, all of whom currently work at LVMH or one of its brands, according to Bloomberg.