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Meet Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest man

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With an estimated net worth of $186.3 billion, French fashion tycoon Bernard Arnault ascended to the exalted position of the world’s richest person early Monday morning. That puts him ahead of Jeff Bezos ($186 billion) and Elon Musk ($179 billion). Arnault’s fortune has risen by more than $110 billion in 14 months from a relatively humble valuation of $76 billion in March 2020. 

On Monday, French billionaire Bernard Arnault’s stake in luxury goods conglomerate LVMH increased by more than $600 million, bringing the company’s market capitalization to $320 billion. His share in the company, which owns Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Dior Homme, is now valued at $186.3 billion. Burberry, Givenchy, and Marni are among the brands owned by the French fashion firm.

Europe’s Luxury Lockdown

During the government shutdown, LVMH and its CEO Bernard Arnault represented the incredible rise of Europe’s luxury and fashion houses. The “momentum” of Chinese buyers helped LVMH earn $17 billion in the first quarter of 2021, up 32% from the same period in 2020.

In a year, François Pinault’s net worth increased from $27 billion to $55.1 billion, thanks to his Kering Group, which owns Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen. Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, co-founders of Chanel, are now worth $35 billion, more than double their 2020 net worth. Even Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, L’Oréal’s founder’s granddaughter, saw her fortune increase by about $40 billion, to $87.8 billion Monday.

A European At No. 1

While Theo and Karl Albrecht, the founders of Aldi, made the top ten, they never claimed the top spot. Bernard Arnault has been in the top five since 2018, when he was ranked 11th. With a fortune of $76 billion, he became the third-richest person in the world in 2019. 

When Elon Musk’s net worth reached $189.7 billion in January 2021, he momentarily became the world’s richest individual. Since March 2020, when he was valued at $24.6 billion, he has increased his net worth several times over. The net worth of the world’s wealthiest persons have varied significantly since the outbreak, with several soaring by billions.

Arnault Ascendant

With an interest in fashion, wine and spirits, perfumes, watches, jewellery, and retail, it has been a heady rise to the top of the ranks for Arnault. 

The French media dubbed him “The wolf in cashmere” for his silk and steel approach when he put a billion dollars (plus some loose change) to buy a controlling stake in LVMH. 

He paid no heed to the media and instead went on a savvy shopping spree, acquiring companies aplenty and demonstrating a remarkable capacity to allocate capital. The brands brought into the LVMH fold, and then allowed to operate independently in their own spirit, include the likes of Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, Fendi, and DKNY among many others. 

The turn of the decade didn’t slow him down either; he picked up Bvlgari in 2011 for a staggering $5 billion in 2011, and recently acquired the hallowed Tiffany’s brand in 2020 for an eye watering $16 billion. This represented his biggest deal ever, and reflects his ethos, which is to look for stars and then seize the opportunity. 

What makes Arnault appeal?

Luxury industry insiders say he combines Wall Street smarts with “generational thinking”. Some of the LVMH brands go back centuries, creating a cache that is deep and almost impossible to replicate with a new-age brand. He combines this old-world brand equity with new-age talent, marrying the best of both worlds. Virgin Abloh, Rihanna, and Stella McCartney are just some of the young stars in LVMH’s galaxy, and they won’t be the last. 

Louis Vuitton is of course the crown jewel, valued at $47 billion and the most revered luxury brand on the planet, with sales equivalent to its 3 biggest competitors: Estée Lauder, Richemont, and Kering. 

Style, savvy, and smarts. The wolf in cashmere has come a long way, and remains in the hunt for new opportunities always. Carpe diem. 

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