One afternoon in July, not lengthy after being named the wealthiest man on the planet by Forbes, Bernard Arnault, the head of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxurious items empire, took his place on a stage with a view of the Eiffel Tower earlier than a packed crowd of French dignitaries and reporters.
In the entrance row sat 4 of his 5 grownup kids — the fifth was watching from New York, the place he’s an government at Tiffany & Company. Their father had raised all of them since they may stroll to at some point run the LVMH conglomerate.
The event was Mr. Arnault’s announcement that LVMH would supply 150 million euros (about $161 million) to sponsor the 2024 Paris Olympics. LVMH firms will play a starring position. Chaumet, a Paris jeweler whose shoppers as soon as included Napoleon’s wife Joséphine, will design the Olympic medals, and Moët Hennessy wines will circulation in hospitality suites.
“The partnership will help promote France throughout the world,” Mr. Arnault declared. As tv cameras zoomed in, his eldest son, Antoine, the head of communications and picture for LVMH, uttered what may very well be a tagline for this enormous firm his father has constructed: “For a dream, there is no price.”
It was a second of public triumph for Mr. Arnault, an indication of how embedded in the cloth of France LVMH has turn out to be. Over greater than 30 years, he has cast LVMH into the world’s largest luxury group and the Most worthy firm in France, with a presence in 81 nations. His manufacturers — 75 of them — are the stars of the luxurious world, together with Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Tiffany and Dom Pérignon Champagne. It has given him entree to prime ministers and presidents, and allowed him to amass a museum-worthy artwork assortment.
But his success has introduced challenges. In France, Mr. Arnault has turn out to be a lightning rod for anger over rising financial inequality. In April, 10 days after Forbes put him atop its annual list of richest folks, protesters stormed his office in Paris throughout nationwide strikes over elevating the retirement age. His effigy was burned as a logo of capitalist evil.
Mr. Arnault’s 5 kids have been taught in France’s greatest colleges and raised to take management posts in the enterprise, but his dream of holding LVMH in the household might pressure him to elevate one above the relaxation.
And in latest months LVMH’s inventory has taken a beating, down 19 % since hitting a excessive in April. The firm reported a dip in U.S. gross sales in the second quarter, and the Chinese economic system, a giant supply of LVMH’s income, is faltering.
The falling shares imply that Mr. Arnault (now price about $195 billion, Forbes says) dropped to the second-richest individual in the world in June, eclipsed by Elon Musk. This month, LVMH was changed as Europe’s Most worthy firm by Denmark’s Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, the massively widespread medication getting used for weight reduction.
At 74, Mr. Arnault has been working to be sure his firm — created by gobbling up many European luxurious homes that had been weakened by bickering household homeowners — will keep firmly in his household’s palms, secure from company raiders like himself. Last yr, he persuaded the board to elevate the obligatory retirement age for the chief government and chairman to 80, from 75, and created a company construction that ensures the household’s management of LVMH, locking in his kids — every of whom has been named to extremely seen positions inside the firm — as the chief determination makers.
Mr. Arnault has broadened LVMH past extravagant playthings into the world of experiences, buying over 50 grand inns and resorts. And with the Olympics deal, he has prolonged his tentacles more deeply into the world of sports.
Mr. Arnault’s modifications imply he doesn’t have to retire subsequent yr as initially anticipated. That hasn’t stopped hypothesis about whether or not he can be certain that his heirs — who costume in virtually an identical Dior navy fits (save for Delphine, his one daughter, who usually wears Dior skirts) — keep away from a “Succession”-like drama.
The French media is full of headlines evaluating the Arnaults to the Roys, the fictional household in the HBO sequence. There are TikTok movies explaining why the Arnaults are “the real ‘Succession’ family.” The household hates this discuss, and takes pains to play down parallels to the present.
The eldest sibling is Delphine, 48, chairman and chief government of Christian Dior Couture and a member of the LVMH government committee and its board. Antoine, 46, is just not solely in cost of the group’s picture and sustainability efforts but chief government of its males’s put on model Berluti, chairman of the Italian luxurious home Loro Piana, chief government of Christian Dior S.E. and a member of the LVMH board. Both are from Mr. Arnault’s first marriage, to Anne Dewavrin. The youngest three are from Mr. Arnault’s second marriage, to Hélène Mercier, a Canadian live performance pianist: Alexandre, 31, is government vice chairman of product and communications at Tiffany; Frédéric, 28, is chief government of Tag Heuer; and Jean, 24, is Louis Vuitton’s watch director.
In a uncommon interview in LVMH’s discreetly lavish headquarters in Paris — this text is the first for which Mr. Arnault and his kids have agreed to discuss on the report to a global newspaper — Mr. Arnault dismissed any comparability to tv’s Roys with a wave of his hand.
“It’s not an obligation, nor inevitable, that a kid is my successor,” he mentioned, leaning again in a buttery leather-based chair at a spherical desk in his personal convention room. On one wall was a Picasso; on two others, Warhols. His son Antoine, in his position as picture gatekeeper, sat throughout the desk.
Mr. Arnault was sporting a white shirt, a blue tie, a navy jacket and black slacks, although lately he’s often and not using a tie, Antoine mentioned, half of a extra informal uniform that has accompanied new efforts to interact with the outdoors world. The kids have been instrumental in pushing their father to be extra open about the conglomerate.
“The best person inside the family or outside the family should be one day my successor,” Mr. Arnault continued. “But it’s not something that I hope is a duel for the near future.”
Still, legacy is clearly on Mr. Arnault’s thoughts. He grew up in Roubaix, as soon as a booming textile heart in northern France, and watched household industrial dynasties collapse as kids or grandchildren took their eyes off the enterprise or squandered inheritances.
“After one or two generations, it broke down because they had it too easy,” he mentioned. It was a mistake he vowed not to make together with his personal kids. “I didn’t want them to start going to big parties,” Mr. Arnault mentioned. “I made them work.”
Business at the Dining Table
Every month, the 5 siblings meet with their father over lunch on the high ground of LVMH’s headquarters.
For an hour and a half, they talk about enterprise, together with funds, the curve of the bracelet on a brand new €50,000 Vuitton watch, upcoming product introductions and the social media payoff of over-the-top occasions. For instance, a Vuitton males’s put on present by the model’s new designer, Pharrell Williams, shut down Paris’s Pont Neuf and attracted such names as Kim Kardashian and LeBron James, leading to over 16 million YouTube hits.
“Make no mistake,” Jean mentioned. “We discuss things, but at the end, it’s he who decides.”
Amid the bonhomie, the siblings say, Mr. Arnault is gauging how every of his kids is measuring up.
A graduate of France’s elite École Polytechnique, Mr. Arnault honed his kids’s math expertise almost each evening earlier than dinnertime. Antoine recalled that getting something lower than an ideal grade on vital exams “wasn’t acceptable.”
Jean jokes about having “24 years of experience, because every lunch and dinner was always about work.”
Ian Rogers, a former chief digital officer at LVMH, mentioned Alexandre had advised him, “My business education started when I was 9, at the breakfast table.”
By age 10, Delphine was accompanying her father to Dior shops. He has made weekend inspections of LVMH properties in Paris together with his kids a routine for greater than three a long time. Alexandre mentioned: “I remember, age 7, thinking, ‘Why is he doing this, and why is he asking the same question to the same salesperson, every Saturday of the year?’”
The father paired every of his kids with a mentor as they entered the enterprise, to train them the manufacturers and monitor their efficiency. Delphine and Antoine began in novice positions (Delphine bought Dior fragrance at age 17) earlier than ascending to the C-suite. The three youngest moved extra rapidly into senior roles, “probably because he feels time is running out and he needs to speed up the process of learning,” mentioned Pierre-Yves Roussel, a former chief of the LVMH vogue group and the present chief government of Tory Burch.
All of them perceive that the household itself is now as a lot a model as the manufacturers they personal, and have wasted no time making their presence identified.
In lower than two years at Tiffany, Alexandre helped seal a cope with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, making a social media sensation. (In 2016, Alexandre persuaded his father to acquire Rimowa, a German maker of aluminum suitcases, which was based in 1898. He instantly set about making the utilitarian baggage firm cool.) Delphine created the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, a high-profile expertise competitors. And Antoine has thrown huge the beforehand closed doorways of many LVMH firms with a sequence of “open days” that invite the public inside factories and workshops.
Their father by no means pressured them to be a part of LVMH, the kids mentioned. Even so, Frédéric mentioned, “he found a way to make me want to give my life to the family business like he did.” (Children from each marriages grew up vacationing collectively, and have been raised to play tennis and piano — their father’s favourite pastimes.)
The clan has gotten larger after two glamorous marriages: Antoine to the mannequin and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, and Alexandre to Géraldine Guyot, who has an equipment model, Destree, that’s unbiased of LVMH. Delphine’s associate is a digital entrepreneur and billionaire, Xavier Niel.
When Alexandre wed Geraldine in Venice in 2021, company included Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Roger Federer (who ceaselessly performs tennis with Mr. Arnault). His three brothers have been groomsmen. They share a household group chat, through which they swap child photos.
“I know it’s disappointing for a lot of people,” Antoine mentioned, “but we actually get on well.”
The iPhone vs. Dom Pérignon
Mr. Arnault was born right into a development firm run by his father and based by his grandfather, who took him to constructing websites when he was 7.
When Mr. Arnault was 28, his father handed him the keys to the enterprise. He refocused it on actual property, and shortly after moved to New Rochelle, N.Y., to develop in an setting friendlier to entrepreneurs than socialist France.
It was the period of the company raider, and Mr. Arnault soaked in the extra aggressive method to mergers and acquisitions. When he returned to Paris at 35, after a slightly unsuccessful run creating condominiums in Palm Beach, Fla., he got here again as a barbarian at the gate — and with a brand new thought: A New York cabdriver had advised him that he didn’t know the identify of France’s president, “but I know Dior!”
As it occurred, the French authorities needed to unload a bankrupt textile conglomerate that included Dior. Mr. Arnault purchased it for 1 franc, fired 9,000 folks and discarded all the pieces besides Dior, which he then used to assist finance a brutal takeover of LVMH, a gaggle just lately fashioned from the baggage maker Louis Vuitton and the Moët Hennessy Champagne and cognac home.
The battle for LVMH made his status. Enlisted by Henry Racamier, one of LVMH’s founders, to purchase shares and forestall one other group from gaining management, Mr. Arnault did as he was requested, but didn’t cease. He in the end turned the tables, seized management of LVMH and compelled out Mr. Racamier, who mentioned at the time, “We would like to find a modus vivendi, but it’s hard with a person like that.”
His model despatched shock waves by way of the clubby world of French enterprise, the place he turned generally known as “the Wolf in Cashmere.” It was the starting of a three-decade spree of empire constructing. He pursued family-owned manufacturers identified for craftsmanship and elegance: Pucci, Fendi, Celine, Loro Piana. Some have been glad to be purchased out; some weren’t. Losses have been uncommon: Gucci and Hermès slipped by way of his fingers after ugly public battles.
During Mr. Arnault’s takeover of Tiffany in 2020, as the pandemic damage earnings, he was accused of enlisting the French authorities’s assist to delay the deal’s closing, and in the finish gained a reduction on the negotiated worth. (At $16 billion, it stays the luxurious sector’s largest deal.)
He has expanded LVMH into luxurious hospitality lately. LVMH’s holdings embrace the Cipriani resort in Venice, the Orient Express practice and the “21” Club in New York. There are eating places in flagship shops for Tiffany and Dior, and a brand new four-story Moët cocktail bar in Paris.
Mr. Arnault’s bets have often paid off. Luxury, in all its types, has been one of the most resilient investments on Wall Street in the final decade.
“He was always saying, ‘The iPhone is great, but who knows if we will be using an iPhone in 10 years?’” Mr. Rogers, the former chief digital officer, mentioned. “‘Whereas I know people will continue to drink Dom Pérignon.’”
“We are like Henry Kissinger,” Mr. Arnault mentioned. “We are not there to agree or disagree on the political aspect of the country in which we are doing business.”
‘They Need to Find a Type of Enemy’
Mr. Arnault insisted repeatedly throughout the interview that his predominant objective was not earnings. “It’s desirability,” he mentioned, “and we must make sure that in 50 years we are still at the top.”
“Desirability,” mentioned Mr. Roussel, the former LVMH government, is the hottest phrase at the firm. But it highlights a possible drawback, he mentioned: “A consumer waking up and saying, ‘You know, I’m buying this product, but there’s someone making so much money out of it.’”
“Is it desirable that you’re buying a product from someone who is the richest man in the world?”
That sentiment was not evident this summer season when Mr. Arnault visited China, one of LVMH’s most profitable markets. The “richest man” headlines from months earlier earned him a rock star’s welcome. In Shanghai and Chengdu, crowds adopted him and vied for selfies. Mothers requested him to bless their infants.
“Like the pope. Can you believe that?” he mentioned. He was known as, he mentioned with fun, “the God of Fortune.”
But again dwelling, the place ardour about social and monetary inequality stretches again to the French Revolution, Mr. Arnault is a divisive determine: hailed by the enterprise and political worlds for constructing France’s largest company titan, and reviled by others for his virtually unimaginable wealth.
For a household that tries to preserve its fortune discreet, the “richest man” rating this yr nonetheless brings an unwelcome highlight.
“The attention that you get when you’re on the top of that list,” Antoine mentioned, “you can’t really prepare for that.”
In April, as France’s raucous nationwide protests gathered steam over President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to elevate the retirement age two years to 64, demonstrators broke into the LVMH headquarters, lighting smoke bombs and denouncing Mr. Arnault as the embodiment of the ultrarich.
“He is a symbol of what is wrong in this society!” one shouted. Others carried indicators exhibiting Mr. Arnault as Mr. Monopoly in a high hat, with accusations that he evaded taxes, exploited staff and laid off 1000’s to construct energy and wealth.
This month, when Mr. Arnault introduced that the Arnault household would donate €10 million to Restos du Coeur, a meals financial institution, critics mentioned it was a drop in the bucket.
“They need to find a type of enemy,” Mr. Arnault mentioned. “France is not a country which is motivated by business success, unlike the United States.”
When his good friend Warren Buffett walks round Manhattan, Mr. Arnault added, “he’s like a Beatle.” But when Mr. Arnault visits his shops in France, “I have to be careful,” he mentioned. “I don’t like this, but I need bodyguards.”
Antoine has suggested his father to push again, and lately Mr. Arnault stresses the firm’s financial contributions: a whole lot of 1000’s of jobs created worldwide, €5.5 billion paid yearly in French taxes, and huge sums for artwork and tradition, vitality sustainability, scientific analysis, sports activities and youths.
What nobody debates is that Mr. Arnault understood, earlier than virtually anybody else, luxurious’s potential as a generator of revenue — that creating stunning issues is about aspiration and belonging.
The query now’s who can preserve desirability at the coronary heart of LVMH in an age of protests and world financial uncertainty.
Last yr, Mr. Arnault tinkered with the company construction of his empire, concentrating decision-making together with his 5 kids. Each has a 20 % stake, and so they can’t promote their shares for 30 years with out unanimous board approval.
His heirs “have been schooled by the best player in the world: All of them know the business,” mentioned Sidney Toledano, head of the LVMH vogue group and one of Mr. Arnault’s longest-serving executives. “Are they going to be the pilots? Maybe.”
If the subsequent chief government is just not named Arnault, the kids say they’re OK with that. After all, Alexandre mentioned, “there’s the risk that none of us is able to run the business as well as he has.”
The siblings are starting to talk about how they’ll elevate their very own kids with the similar sense of obligation that was instilled in them, Delphine mentioned. Mr. Arnault has begun taking her elementary-school-age daughter on his weekend rounds of shops.
But Alexandre added: “By the time they reach ages where they can have responsibilities, my father will still probably be C.E.O. of LVMH. He’ll be 110 years old.”