Real-life ‘Succession’: LVMH’s billionaire owner Bernard Arnault to extend his tenure as CEO with his 5 kids in the running to take over
LVMH chief executive and world’s third-richest man Bernard Arnault is changing the rules at his company so he can stay at the helm for a little bit longer.
In a regulatory filing, LVMH said it would seek to raise the age limit for its chief executive officer from 75 to 80 at its next annual general meeting. Arnault, who just celebrated his 73rd birthday this month, has run the company for almost four decades.
Extending his tenure gives Arnault more time to decide on his succession plan, and many analysts predict one of his five children will take over—possibly setting up a family competition akin to HBO’s Succession.
All of Arnault’s children work at LVMH. The eldest, Delphine Arnault, 46, who is widely regarded as the strongest takeover candidate, is executive vice president for Louis Vuitton and the only Arnault child sitting on the company’s executive team.
But Delphine’s siblings are also contenders. Antoine, 44, is head of communication and image at LVMH; Alexandre, 29, works as executive vice president at LVMH’s recently acquired Tiffany; Frédéric, 27, is chief executive of TAG Heuer; and the youngest, Jean, 23, acts as director of marketing and development for Louis Vuitton watches.
Arnault also has a number of colleagues on his executive team who may be in the running. Antonio Belloni, a group managing director responsible for the strategic and operational management of LVMH’s companies, Michael Burke, CEO of Bulgari and Louis Vuitton, and Nicolas Bazire, managing director of Groupe Arnault in charge of development and acquisitions, have all been with LVMH for longer than two decades and could warrant serious consideration.
What the analysts say
“This seems to signal that Bernard Arnault is planning to stay longer at the helm of the group—overall a positive for LVMH, as successor candidates would have more time to mature and gain experience and gravitas,” said Luca Solca, senior research analyst in the global luxury goods group at Bernstein.
When asked if one of Arnault’s kids is positioned to take over, Solca told Fortune, “Yes, I believe this is likely to be the case.”
The proposed change in age limit shows that Arnault is “giving himself a longer time horizon to decide” on his succession plans, Philippe Pele-Clamour, an adjunct professor at business school HEC Paris, told Bloomberg.
The Arnault story
Bernard Arnault, who was born to a wealthy family in Lille, first joined the luxury business by acquiring the bankrupt company Agache-Willot-Boussac—a textile and retail conglomerate that owned Christian Dior—from the French government in 1984.
After acquiring the troubled company, Arnault laid off 9,000 workers in two years, a move that earned him the nickname “The Terminator.” He stripped the company of nearly all of its assets, keeping only the Christian Dior brand and the French luxury department store Le Bon Marché, and by 1987 returned the company to profitability.
Then Arnault began expanding. In July 1988, Arnault invested $1.5 billion in a holding company, formed along with Irish drink company Guinness, to purchase a 25% stake in the Louis Vuitton group, which had merged with Moët Hennessy in 1987. Rumors circulated that LVMH would form a “blocking minority” against Arnault, so Arnault spent $600 million more to buy another 13.5% of the group, making him its largest shareholder. More nicknames followed him, including the “Wolf in Cashmere” and the “Machiavelli of Finance.”
After Arnault took control, more acquisitions ensued. Between 1989 and 2001, LVMH acquired Céline, Berluti, Kenzo, Guerlain, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Sephora, Thomas Pink, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, DKNY, and others.
After the acquisitions, Arnault put key figures into creative director positions to revitalize the brands. He hired Marc Jacobs as creative director of Louis Vuitton in 1997, and installed John Galliano as head of Givenchy in 1995 and then Dior in 1996. He also named the recently deceased Virgil Abloh as artistic director of Louis Vuitton in 2018.
The acquisitions have continued to the present day. LVMH recently acquired jewelry maker Tiffany, and rumors circulate that Arnault is looking into buying Ralph Lauren.
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