When you think of the richest people in the world, most people quickly name Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. I bet most people would leave off Bernard Arnault. That's strange because not only is Bernard the richest person in Europe, he is the THIRD richest person on the planet.
Bernard's current net worth of $150 billion puts him behind only Elon Musk ($190 billion) and Jeff Bezos ($196 billion). He's $1 billion richer than Bill Gates as of this writing.
Since January 1, 2021, Bernard's net worth has increased $33 billion. That's the largest year-to-date net worth gain out of any person in the world.
So who is Bernard Arnault and how did he come to control the world's third-largest fortune?
Bernard Arnault is the CEO of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Arnault and his immediate family own more than 47% of LVMH, which is the world's largest maker of luxury goods and currently has a market cap of $378 billion.
LVMH is made up of roughly 70 brands, notably Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Moët Hennessey, and Dom Perignon. Arnault has been the chairman and CEO of LVMH since 1989.
Bernard Arnault was born in 1949. He grew up in the northern French town of Roubaix. His family owned a successful construction business.
He attended Ecole Polytechnique, where he studied engineering. The school is quite prestigious. Three former presidents of France and three Nobel Prize winners are alumni. After graduating, Arnault worked at the family's construction company for several years.
He married Anne Dewavrin in 1973. They had two kids, Delphine and Antoine. They divorced in 1990. He married Canadian concert pianist Helene Mercier in 1991. They have three children, Alexandre, Frederic, and Jean.
In 1978, Arnault became president of the family business. He soon began steering the family business away from construction and towards real estate.
In 1984, Arnault acquired the luxury goods holding company Financier Agache. That same year he also took over textile company Boussac Saint-Freres. Boussac owned many brands and stores, including the luxury brand Christian Dior and the department store Le Bon Marche. Arnault sold all the Boussac assets except those last two.
In 1987, Arnault brought all the brands together under one umbrella company which he named LVMH since the formation really occurred after merging the luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton with alcohol company Moët Hennessey.
Under Arnault, LVMH underwent massive growth. Although the conglomerate owns a large number of brands, Arnault has continued to promote an approach that decentralizes the brands, which helps them to be viewed as independent brands and firms with their own histories and stories. Some of the other brands under LVMH acquired between 1988 and 2001 include Céline, Berluti, Kenzo, Guerlain, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, Thomas Pink, Emilio Pucci, and Fendi.
Through his holding company Europatweb he invested in several internet companies, including Boo.com, Libertysurg, and Zebank. Through his investment firm, Groupe Arnault, he invested in Netflix in 1999. Arnault owns a reported 10.69% of France's largest supermarket retailer, Carrefour. Carrefour is the second-largest food distributor in the world.
In addition to his Paris residence and vacation home in Saint-Tropez, Arnault has spent nearly $100 million on residential properties in Los Angeles's Beverly Hills, Trousdale Estates, and Hollywood Hills neighborhoods.
Arnault has built LVMH into the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate, earning the nickname "the wolf in the cashmere coat" along the way.