In the past few months, Bernard Arnault’s fortune has surpassed those of technology billionaires with long-standing spots at the top of global billionaire lists.
Headlines swirled when Elon Musk lost his spot as the world’s richest person in December to Arnault, the French head of conglomerate LVMH (LVMHF), which oversees a slew of name-brand luxury companies like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. The race between the two billionaires has been a close one in recent weeks as the duo have taken turns topping each other’s net worth, with both Musk and Arnault currently holding more than $200 billion each.
The road to a nine-figure net worth for Arnault, 75, has been a long and tumultuous journey. Starting out in the luxury world shortly after completing an engineering degree, he eventually took control of LVMH as chairman and CEO, a position he’s held for 34 years. His wealth is largely tied to a 97.5 stake in Christian dior (CHDRY), the leading holding company of LVMH, which controls more than 40 percent of the conglomerate.
Here are some of the most notable dips and rises in what is currently one of the largest fortunes in global history.
1997: An initial ranking at $3.6 billion
Arnault’s inaugural appearance on the annual Forbes billionaire list first occurred in 1997, eight years after he took control of LVMH. At the time, he was reported to have an estimated fortune of $3.6 billion.
His first luxury acquisition occurred in 1984, when Arnault took advantage of the bankruptcy of Christian Dior’s parent company Boussac to purchase the fashion brand for $15 million. As Arnault sold off most of Christian Dior in the next five years, he also began buying shares in LVMH, the recent result of a merger between Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessy.
Arnault became the chairman and CEO in 1989 after increasing his stake to take control, and his growing luxury conglomerate reached $6 billion in revenue by 1997.
2005: A $20 billion milestone
A significant rise in LVMH’s net income by 2005, an increase of 80 percent compared to 2002, helped Arnault’s personal fortune surpass $20 billion for the first time.
Nearly tripling his 2003 net worth of $6.7 billion, the luxury conglomerate head benefited from LVMH’s steadily growing appeal throughout Asia. Excluding Japan, Asian customers accounted for 18 percent of LVMH sales by mid-2005, compared to 15 percent in 2004.
2012: Arnault holds steady around $41 billion
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the French businessman was given the same estimated fortune of $41 billion by Forbes. In 2012, he was the fourth richest person in the world and the wealthiest in France.
Arnault’s fortune benefited from LVMH’s 22 percent increase in profits over 2012 and its successful integration of newly acquired brands like Bulgari.
But his less successful companies, like supermarket chain Carrefour, which dropped by $1 billion in value, prevented Arnault from rising more quickly on the list.
2013: Why the drop to $29 billion?
Despite his fortune holding steady over the previous three years, Arnault saw a dramatic dip in 2013 when his net worth fell to $29 billion.
The downturn also dropped Arnault from the world’s fourth richest person to its tenth. While LVMH shares didn’t suffer that year, instead increasing by six percent, the luxury tycoon’s decreased net worth was attributed to “new information on his ownership stake” and a “revised valuation method,” according to Forbes India.
At the time, Arnault was also facing public backlash over his application for Belgian citizenship, which some criticized as an attempt to avoid France’s tax policies. Although he denied the claims, Arnault later withdrew his bid.
2018: $72 billion during a record-breaking year
After four years with an estimated net worth that fluctuated between $33.5 million and $41.5 million, Arnault’s luck changed in 2018. With $72 million, he jumped seven places on the Forbes ranking to become the world’s fourth richest person and reclaimed his title as Europe’s wealthiest person, a position he lost after 2012.
The rise was largely attached to a record-breaking year for LVMH. At the time its largest-ever revenue, the luxury company brought in $53.4 billion in 2018, a nine percent increase from the year prior.
Once again, Asian demand benefitted Arnault. Chinese consumers increased their spending on LVMH products by double digits in the fourth quarter of the year, in part due to regional price cuts led by Louis Vuitton after import tariffs on clothing were slashed by more than half.
2019: Takeovers ramp up as Arnault becomes a centi-billionaire
Arnault joined Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos in the $100 billion club in 2019, the first non-tech tycoon to do so, after LVMH shares reached a record high on the Euronext Paris exchange.
The luxury conglomerate’s brands became even more sought-after by the public throughout the year, with Arnault’s net worth reaching $107 million in July and temporarily surpassing that of Bill Gates, making him the second wealthiest person for a short time.
By the end of 2019, LVMH’s stock price had risen by 54 percent. Arnault additionally announced his plans to purchase Tiffany & Co.by 2020, a $16 million purchase that would later become the largest acquisition in the company’s history.
2021: $150 billion amid Covid shopping
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, appetites for luxury shopping skyrocketed — and so did Arnault’s fortune. Ranked as the world’s third richest person by Forbes with $150 billion, his conglomerate saw its shares rise by 86 percent.
By May 2021, Arnault briefly became the world’s richest person when he surpassed Jeff Bezos with a jump in net worth to $186 billion after LVMH stock traded at an all-time high. The first quarter of the year also saw his company bring in a 52 percent increase in revenue, compared to the same period in 2020.
While Arnault fell back down to third place a few months later, the year marked his emergence as a contender for top billionaire.
2022: Arnault begins his race to the top with $185 billion
Although Arnault’s initial Forbes ranking in 2022 had him once again as the third richest person with $158 billion, his ascent picked up speed by December.
While LVMH shares were up nearly 18 percent in the second half of 2022, Elon Musk, then ranked the world’s richest person, took a tumble when Tesla stock collapsed by nearly 57 percent throughout the year. As Musk’s net worth fell to $185.3 billion, Arnault temporarily became the richest tycoon with $185.4 billion, setting up a tight race between the two.
Arnault surpassed Musk for good later in the month when his fortune rose to $188 billion compared to Musk’s $177 billion.
2023: $225 billion, for now
Starting off the year with a bang, Arnault topped Forbes annual billionaires list in 2023 with record revenue and profit for LVMH and a net worth of $211 billion, making him the third person to surpass the $200 billion mark after Musk and Bezos.
But the French businessman’s luck turned around in May, when he lost $11 billion in a single day after LVMH shares fell by five percent. While he retained his position as the richest billionaire, concerns over lessening appetites for luxury products caused by a slow-down in the global economy spurred a sell-off of LVMH shares by investors.
Arnault faced more challenges in June when his plans to build an exclusive luxury hotel in Beverly Hills were rejected by local voters concerned about potential overdevelopment. And earlier this month, after Tesla stock reached its highest level in 2023 thus far, Musk managed to reclaim his position as the world’s wealthiest person, with $220.2 billion compared to the LVMH head’s $216 billion.
As of yesterday (June 14), Musk remains ahead with $233.6 billion, while Arnault places second at $225.1 billion, according to Forbes. But if Arnault’s track record is any history, the battle for the top is far from over.