This French Billionaire Is Closing in on Title of ‘World’s Richest Man’ Following the Tiffany Takeover
French billionaire Bernard Arnault’s LVMH snapped up the storied American jeweler Tiffany for $16.2 billion on Monday, adding yet another world-famous luxury brand to his quiver of prestigious names, and pushing him closer to the title of “world’s richest person.”
The sleek, urbane Arnault, 70, has gained nicknames such as “the wolf in cashmere” and “the emperor of luxury” during a lifetime of hard-nosed dealmaking that has seen him grow a struggling French textiles company, bought for a symbolic one franc in 1984, into the world’s biggest luxury goods group with a market value of 200 billion euros.
Joining Fendi, Givenchy and Dom Perignon
He now adds Tiffany, made famous by the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to a parade of 75 famous labels including fashion and leather goods brands Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Celine, perfumes such as Givenchy and Guerlain, jewelry and watch brands including Bulgari, Hublot and TAG Heuer and Dom Perignon champagne.
Arnault, LVMH’s chairman and chief executive, is Europe’s richest man and the third richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which puts his fortune at $100 billion, just behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, both on $109 billion, and well ahead of Warren Buffett. According to Forbes, he’s the second richest man at $106.9 billion.
What cannot be disputed—it’s been one spectacular run for the French luxury mogul.
Arnault’s wealth is based largely on his family’s 47% shareholding in LVMH.
LVMH’s strong performance—thanks in no small part to Arnault’s aggressive dealmaking—has seen its shares rise 55% so far this year, vaulting his personal wealth into the realm of America’s titans of tech and finance. If Tiffany does well under LVMH’s wing it could boost Arnault’s net worth even further.
$2.1 billion richer
News that LVMH had succeeded with its sweetened bid for Tiffany pushed up the French company’s shares by 2% on Monday, increasing the Arnault family fortune by 1.9 billion euros ($2.1 billion). Tiffany’s shares rose 6%. It’s trading near an all-time high, up nearly 200% in the past three years as the luxury sector continues to outperform.
LVMH painted its website in Tiffany’s famous robin’s egg blue as it toasted the takeover of the 182-year-old U.S. company, which it said would strengthen LVMH’s position in jewelry and further increase its presence in the United States.
“We have an immense respect and admiration for Tiffany and intend to develop this jewel with the same dedication and commitment that we have applied to each and every one of our Maisons (brands),” Arnault said in a statement.
Arnault is reported to have had his eye on Tiffany for a long time. LVMH has taken advantage of the emergence of a fast-growing group of middle-class consumers, particularly in Asia, with a taste for luxury, to boost sales of high-priced handbags, fashion and watches.
LVMH sales rose 16% in the third quarter. Tiffany, meanwhile, has struggled to appeal to millennials and has been revamping its strategy.
‘Targeting a particular consumer’
Jefferies analyst Flavio Cereda said the Tiffany deal would give LVMH critical mass in its relatively small jewelry and watches business and it would be “an additional driver of growth for two or three years down the road.”
“It slots in nicely with the vast array of brands that these guys own. They (LVMH) are targeting a particular consumer. Whether the consumer buys their bags, drinks their champagne, drinks their cognac, buys their clothes, buys their shoes or indeed buys their jewelry, I think the point is there is a significant amount of overlap between the different categories. It all appeals to the same type of consumer with disposable income,” he told Fortune.
Born into a family of industrialists in Roubaix, northern France on March 5, 1949, Arnault attended local schools before going on to study at France’s prestigious Ecole Polytechnique.
He began his career as an engineer with the Ferret-Savinel construction company, which his family owned, and was promoted to various executive management positions before becoming chairman in 1978, according to LVMH’s web site.
In 1984, he took control, for a symbolic one franc, of the troubled Boussac textile company that owned the Christian Dior brand.
He turned Christian Dior into the cornerstone of his fledgling empire. In the late 1980s, Arnault built up a large stake in LVMH, which had recently been formed from the merger of Moet Hennessy and Louis Vuitton. He has been chairman and CEO of LVMH since 1989.
Since then, acquisitions have followed thick and fast, including Kenzo, Guerlain, Loewe, Marc Jacobs and Sephora.
He has had setbacks. One of the biggest was in 1999 when PPR, now called Kering, bested LVMH in a takeover battle for the Italian luxury brand Gucci.
Late last year, LVMH branched out by buying luxury travel firm Belmond for an enterprise value of $3.2 billion. This aim was to give wealthy customers exceptional travel experiences to match the luxury goods they buy.
Meanwhile, Arnault’s penchant for big splashes is the talk of Paris. LVMH is spending 750 million euros ($825 million) on restoring La Samaritaine, a 150-year-old department store that it hopes to turn into a magnet for well-heeled tourists.
Married with five children, Arnault is a well-known modern art collector, owning works by Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore, and enjoys playing tennis and the piano.
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