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Bernard Arnault just became the world’s richest person. So who is he?


Bernard Arnault, chairman of French luxury goods giant LVMH (LVMHF), has just become the first European to top Bloomberg’s list of the world’s richest people, referring Elon Musk to second place.

Arnault’s fortune, now worth $171 billion, surpassed the Tesla chief’s fortune of $164 billion 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 fallen by $107 billion this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Arnault’s fortune, which derives from his controlling stake in LVMH, has seen a more modest decline of $7 billion.

The discrepancy is partly due to the share performance of the companies in which the pair own shares. Musk’s purchase of Twitter (TWTR) has not helped either. Still, he’s in no imminent danger of falling further down the list: His fortune is still comfortably greater than that of Indian industrialist Gautam Adani ($125 billion) and Amazon ( AMZN ) founder Jeff Bezos ($116 billion), who are in third and fourth place on Bloomberg’s list.

While Tesla’s ( TSLA ) share price has fallen 54% this year, LVMH shares have held steady, supported by robust sales in the US and Europe. The luxury market has remained relatively stable this year, although rising inflation has caused less affluent buyers to change their spending habits. LVMH has a market capitalization of €362.4 billion ($386 billion).

Born in Roubaix in northern France in 1949, Arnault graduated from the prestigious École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Paris. He began his career in the family-owned construction company Ferret-Savinel, becoming chairman in 1978 after successive promotions.

Six years later, he heard that the French government was looking for a new investor to take over Boussac Saint-Freres. The bankrupt textile group owned an important asset: Christian Dior, a famous French fashion house.

Arnault bought control of the group, returned it to profitability and launched a strategy to develop the world’s leading luxury goods company. “In the process, he revived 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 by the merger of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. He has been chairman and CEO of the company since then.

While his own name may not be immediately recognizable to many, the brands that Arnault has helped grow – from Christian Dior to Dom Pérignon – have become household names.

Over the past three decades, Arnault has turned LVMH into a luxury goods powerhouse with 75 brands selling wine, spirits, fashion, leather goods, perfumes, cosmetics, watches, jewelry, luxury travel and hotel stays. He opened China’s first Louis Vuitton store in Beijing in 1992.

In January 2021, the group completed its $15.8 billion takeover of iconic US jeweler Tiffany & Co, the luxury industry’s largest acquisition ever.

Arnault’s philanthropic endeavors are pursued mainly through LVMH, which focuses its patronage on arts and culture. In 2019, the group donated €200 million ($212 million) to help rebuild Notre Dame after a massive fire tore through the cathedral in Paris.

Arnault has long held the title of Europe’s richest person, but the 73-year-old keeps a much lower profile than Musk and is not personally active on any major social media platforms. In October, he told LVMH-owned Radio Classique that he was selling his private jet because he had been Twitter-shamed over his frequent use of the plane.

Arnault is married and has five children, all of whom work at LVMH or one of its brands, according to Bloomberg.

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