A throne and five children: who will be the new luxury pope?

Shortly after his birth, in 1992, Alexandre Arnault receives a greeting card from his older half-brother Antoine. “Dear Alexandre,” writes the then 14-year-old son of French luxury magnate Bernard Arnault. “I hope the birth went well and that you are well. I advise you to get to work as soon as possible, because otherwise…”

The card is intended as a joke, but with a serious undertone. Born into the Arnault family, expectations are high. None of the five children can afford to sit back and live on his surname. Each of them must prove themselves before they get a place in the family business LVMH, the largest manufacturer of luxury products in the world.

More than thirty years later, Arnault and his five children meet every month in one of the spacious rooms of the head office, a stately building on Avenue Montaigne, one of the most expensive shopping streets in Paris. They all now have a position at LVMH. They see and talk to each other all the time: in the office, at fashion shows, during store visits.

But the monthly meetings are of a different nature. The French newspaper The world she described in a profile on the Arnault family two years ago as a kind of board meeting outside the actual board. In no more than an hour and a half, Father Bernard explains new plans and all the children get the chance to have their say.

Arnault senior sees these meetings as a preliminary report. He wants to see how his children develop in the run-up to perhaps the most difficult decision of his career: Who will be his successor? For the 73-year-old Frenchman may have the ambition to continue in the coming years, but above all he will be prepared. Delaying such a decision and being surprised can be fatal for a company, he realizes.

Wolf in cashmere

The outside world likes to speculate which of the children will soon be chosen as successor. If one of the five is promoted, the French press – and increasingly also the international press – quickly sees a hidden message in it. Until a brother or sister also gets a higher position not much later. Then suddenly he is the most important candidate.

For Arnault, the decision is above all about the future of his company, he said in 2013 The world. Even if one of the children threatens to come into conflict with the rest, LVMH must be able to continue. In a sense, the luxury conglomerate is also one of his children: he single-handedly built the company into a global empire with more than seventy brands, including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Hennessy.

Arnault often attributes that success to an encounter with a taxi driver in New York in the 1970s. The French businessman was still working for his father’s construction company at the time and asked the driver what he knew about France. “He couldn’t name the president, but he knew Dior,” Arnault recalled in 2019 in conversation with Financial Times.

The taxi driver in New York could not name the president, but he knew Dior

Bernard Arnold in conversation with the Financial Times

In his own words, the meeting showed him the influence of the most successful luxury brands. According to Arnault, this is because top-level products combine two incompatible properties, he once told a business magazine Forbes. “They are timeless, but also the epitome of modernity. It’s like water and fire.”

So when he heard in the mid-1980s that the French textile giant Boussac was about to collapse, Arnault forced himself to be the savior of the parent company of the fashion house Christian Dior. He left the family business and took over the crushing concern of the French government for 1 franc. With the promise that he would keep all the jobs.

Once in the lead, that promise was quickly broken. Arnault sold all parts except Dior and fired many thousands of employees. These interventions had a commercial effect: within three years the fashion house was growing again and turning a profit. But it also led him to tell nicknames like ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Le Loup and Cachemire– the wolf in cashmere.

LVMH was created a few years later, after a merger of Dior with the drinks manufacturer Moët Hennessy and the fashion house Louis Vuitton. In the years that followed, Arnault increased his hold on that concern by buying additional shares. At the same time, LVMH grew rapidly by acquiring other brands. One of the latest acquisitions is the world-famous American jeweler Tiffany’s, which was acquired in 2020 for almost 14 billion euros.

Almost 40 years after Arnault left the construction industry, he is at the helm of the world’s largest collection of luxury brands. His company is worth more than 400 billion euros and had a turnover of more than 64 billion euros in 2021. Arnault’s net worth is estimated at 211 billion. According to the annual ranking of the business magazine Forbes will he be the richest man on earth by 2023.

Homework support

According to those who know him, Arnault is only too aware of where his boundless ambition comes from. In profiles in i.a The world and the French magazine Capital it is often about how much value the businessman attaches to a good upbringing. He got one himself: his parents and grandparents taught him the importance of hard work at an early age.

IN The world the Frenchman tells how, as a seven-year-old, he took his grandfather to visit construction sites. When his other grandfather died, a ten-year-old Arnault put his school reports in the coffin. He attended the best French schools, including the famous one grand école Polytechnic Institute in Paris.

The multi-billionaire chose the same intensive upbringing for his children. They were taught good manners from an early age, attended good schools and took tennis and piano lessons. Despite his busy life, Arnault was closely involved: for many years he ended his working day at 6 so he could make sure his children did their homework.

Arnault was deeply involved in the upbringing: he finished his working day at 6 in the morning so that he could make sure that his children did their homework

In their youth, LVMH was never far away, the business magazine signed Capital three years ago. Arnault taught his children early on how to determine the quality of leather, asking them their opinion of the furniture during store visits. His third child Alexandre joked in the magazine that he was 28 and had worked in the family business for 25 years.

While some of his children took short trips to a large consulting or investment firm after college, they all eventually ended up under the family business umbrella. Daughter Delphine, the eldest, already started at LMVH in 2001. The youngest, Jean, joined exactly twenty years later, at 22 years old.

Of all five, Jean still has to prove himself the most: He is the only one who is not yet at the top of one of the big brands. His older brother Frédéric, child number four, is now the CEO of the watch brand TAG Heuer. Alexandre joined the board of newly acquired Tiffany’s in 2021 after a management role at German suitcase manufacturer Rimowa.

The highest places are provisionally for the two oldest children, from Arnault’s first marriage. Just before the turn of the year, it was announced that Antoine would become CEO of Christian Dior SE, the family company in which his father has placed his interest in LVMH. Last week, daughter Delphine also received a promotion: she becomes top woman at the fashion house Dior; not the biggest part of LVMH, but the brand that her father has the most feeling for.

Spotlights

What can be deduced from such shifts? Father Bernard Arnault has not released anything about it so far. The topic of corporate succession is taboo, even at the top of the company, senior executives said in the Financial Times a few years ago. Arnault shares his thoughts on it only with a handful of confidantes, who must first swear to their discretion.

In the meantime, the businessman tries to give as few signals as possible to the outside world, writes Capital magazine. If he is on a business trip with Alexandre for a week, he takes Frédéric with him the following week, so that all his children get approximately equal time in the limelight. According to a source at the top of the company, no decision has yet been made, he told Le Monde anonymously. “But the race is on. The winner must excel in the years to come.”

Until then, the children might as well keep their heads. None of them have ever explicitly expressed the ambition to ascend the throne. “I don’t know – it’s not planned,” Delphine once told the fashion magazine W Magazine. “My father is still young and I don’t think he will ever stop working.”

Delphine Arnault (47)

As the eldest child and only daughter, Delphine Arnault has a special bond with her father. She studied at the London School of Economics and later the prestigious Edhec Business School. After two years at the McKinsey consulting firm, she joined Dior in 2001 and brought some major designers to LVMH. In 2013, she became Vice President of Louis Vuitton, the company’s largest brand. Delphine has been chief executive at Dior since the spring. She is also on the board of LVMH.

Anthony Arnault (45)

At a younger age, Antoine was according to The world as the cross in the family. Instead of studying, he preferred to spend his time playing poker. To his father’s satisfaction, at the age of 28 he completed a management course at the French business school INSEAD. Antoine started at LVMH in marketing and became head of that department. After ten years as managing director of the shoe brand Berluti, he is now chief executive of the umbrella holding company where his father has placed his interests.

Alexandre Arnault (30)

Of the five children, Alexandre is the first to pass the entrance exam to the prestigious grand école. Only he was unable to get into Polytechnique, the college where his father studied and which, according to older brother Antoine, is actually the only course that matters to Arnault senior. After a bachelor’s degree at another vocational college, Alexandre was admitted to his master’s degree. After four years as top man at the suitcase maker Rimowa, child number three is now on the board of the recently acquired top jeweler Tiffany’s.

Frederic Arnault (28)

What Alexandre Arnault failed to do, his younger brother Frédéric did: to be admitted to the Polytechnique. According to Capital magazine, he is the most understated, but perhaps also the most talented. Frédéric is a star in mathematics, not a bad tennis player and an excellent pianist. After his studies, he founded a mobile payment service with two friends, which he sold for millions. In 2020, he – barely 25 years old – became CEO of the exclusive watch brand TAG Heuer.

Jean Arnault (24)

Like his older brother Frédéric, Jean Arnault, the youngest of the five, is also involved in watches. After studying mechanical engineering and financial mathematics at the top American university MIT, he started in 2021 at the age of just 22 at Louis Vuitton’s watch department. He is now responsible for product development and marketing.

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