World’s richest man sees $11 billion in wealth wiped out after stock rout in European luxury goods

May 24, 2023, 11:08 AM UTC
LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault Presents Earnings
Arnault's net worth was hit by a 5% drop in LVMH's share price.
Christophe Morin—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The world’s richest person, Bernard Arnault, saw his wealth drop by more than $11 billion in a single day following a luxury company stock price bloodbath. 

The founder and CEO of the luxury powerhouse LVMH experienced a loss of $11.2 billion on Tuesday, as investors grow increasingly concerned that America’s economic slowdown will dampen demand for high-end goods.   

The French tycoon, who owns top designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., and Christian Dior, had been enjoying a prosperous 2023 in which his personal wealth ballooned. 

Over the past year, the share prices of European luxury companies like LVMH surged despite economic woes—until this week: About $30 billion was wiped from the European luxury sector on Tuesday, when LVMH’s shares dropped by 5%.

Although the hit on Arnault’s net worth didn’t knock him off the top spot as the planet’s wealthiest person, it does see his lead on Tesla founder and “chief twit” Elon Musk narrow. 

Despite the wipeout, the 74-year-old still has $192 billion to his name and a $12 billion lead over Musk’s $180 billion fortune—down from a $21 billion lead on Monday—reports Bloomberg.

But Arnault shouldn’t sit too comfortably: Musk lost his crown in very similar circumstances back in December 2022 when Tesla’s share price dropped.

How did Bernard Arnault make his fortune?

In 1971, Arnault kick-started his career by working at his father’s real estate company, where he proved he had an entrepreneurial mind from a young age: A 25-year-old Arnault convinced his father to sell the construction side of the business and shift its focus to property. 

Arnault got his big break by putting up $15 million from that sale to buy the luxury goods company that owned the fashion brand Christian Dior, Boussac Saint-Frères, in 1984.

Following the acquisition, the billionaire fired 9,000 people working for the company, sold off most of the group’s assets (except the Dior brand), and earned the nickname “the Terminator.”

But his tough approach worked: By 1987, the company started making profits, reportedly generating $112 million in earnings from a revenue stream of $1.9 billion.

In the same year, he partnered with Alain Chevalier, CEO of Moët Hennessy, and Henry Racamier, president of Louis Vuitton, to form LVMH—and the rest is history. 

Today, LVMH has some 75 luxury brands in its portfolio and, under Arnault’s leadership, has grown to become the largest company (by market capitalization) in Europe.

Just last month, the Paris-headquartered conglomerate became the first European company ever to cross $500 billion in market valuation, and Arnault’s wealth—which is largely tied to LVMH’s shares, including a 97.5% stake in Dior—topped $200 billion for the first time.

His five ultrawealthy children, all of whom work at LVMH brands, are vying to one day take over his luxury empire. But Arnault senior has shown no sign of slowing down, with LVMH recently hiking its age limit for chief executives from 75 to 80.

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