The man at the helm of luxury’s largest conglomerate, Bernard Arnault and his luxury group LVMH have an indelible imprint on the fashion industry — on account of the sheer scale of the company's acquisitions and continuing profitability.
In addition to LVMH, Arnault oversees further investment and holding vehicles. Groupe Arnault has invested in Netflix and Blue Capital and also took a major stake in French food chain Carrefour. He has also invested in Boo.com and a variety of other online ventures, as well as buying Princess Yachts outright.
Arnault began his career working for his father’s manufacturing company. Five years into the position, he convinced his father to liquidate the construction division and enter the real estate market. Under the name Férinel, the new company initially developed specialty holiday accommodations. Named a director of the company in 1974, he became chief executive in 1977. In 1979, he succeeded his father as president of the company.
In 1984, with the help of Antoine Bernheim, a senior partner of financier Lazard Frères et Cie, Arnault acquired Financière Agache, becoming chief executive and taking control of Boussac, a beleaguered textile company which owned, among other assets, Christian Dior and the department store Le Bon Marché. Arnault used this foothold in the luxury business to begin building what would become the world’s largest luxury conglomerate.
Over the next 11 years, LVMH’s value multiplied fifteen times over and sales and profit increased fivefold. One of the key factors in the company’s success has been Arnault’s programme of decentralisation and his efforts to highlight each brand’s heritage, so that each company is viewed independently in its own right.
In 1993, LVMH acquired Berluti and Kenzo. In the same year Arnault bought out the French economic newspaper La Tribune, which he later sold, reinvesting in the newspaper business by buying Les Echos.
Over the succeeding years, along with scores of acquisitions in the drinks market, Arnault earned his sobriquet “a wolf in cashmere,” by acquiring Givenchy, Guerlain, Marc Jacobs , Sephora, Emilio Pucci , Fendi, Loro Piana, Nicholas Kirkwood , Thomas Pink, R.M Williams, EDUN, Moynat and Donna Karen, along with a host of jewellery brands, including TAG Heuer, De Beers and Bulgari. Arnault’s business activities have been interpreted by many as indicating the executive is firmly set on acquiring Hermès. However, the Hermès family has thus far publically rebuffed Arnault’s advances, winning legal action against LVMH, and taking steps to prevent further investment in Hermès by Arnault.
Arnault has been married twice and has five grown children, four of whom — Dephine, Antoine, Alexandre and Frédéric — work within the business. According to Forbes, he is the richest man in Europe and fourth-richest in the world.