One throne, five children: Who will be the new pope of luxury?

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

The card is meant as a joke, but with a serious undertone. Born into Arno’s family, expectations are high. None of the five children can afford to sit and live in his family name. Each of them must prove themselves before they earn a place in the family company LVMH, the largest maker of luxury products in the world.

After more than thirty years, Arnault and his five children meet monthly in one of the spacious rooms of the main office, a stately building on the avenue Montaigne, one of the most expensive shopping streets in Paris. All of them now have a position within LVMH. They see and talk to each other all the time: in the office, at fashion shows, while visiting stores.

But the monthly meetings are of a different nature. French newspaper Le Monde I described in a profile of the Arnault family two years ago as a kind of board meeting outside of the actual board. In no more than an hour and a half, Father Bernard explains the new plans and all the children are given the opportunity to express their opinions.

Arno Kabir sees those meetings as an interim report. He wants to see how his children develop, in the run-up to perhaps the toughest decision of his career: Who will be his successor? Because the 73-year-old Frenchman may have the ambition to stay for years to come, but above all he wants to be prepared. He realizes that delaying such a decision and feeling caught off guard can be fatal to the company.

The wolf in cashmere

The outside world loves to speculate about which of the children will soon be chosen as the successor. If one of the five gets promoted, the French press – and increasingly the international press – quickly see a hidden message in it. So that the brother or sister will also get a higher position not too long ago. Then suddenly he became the top candidate.

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

Arnault often attributes this 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. Arnault recalled in 2019 in a conversation with The financial times.

The New York taxi driver couldn’t name the president, but Dior knew him

Bernard Arnold In conversation with the Financial Times

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

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

And once he was on top, that promise was quickly broken. Arnault sold all parts except Dior and laid off several thousand employees. These interventions had a commercial effect: within three years the fashion house had grown again and turned a profit. However, it also made him tell nicknames like “The Terminator” and “The Terminator.”Le Loeb and Cashmere– The wolf in cashmere.

LVMH was created a few years later, after Dior merged with beverage maker Moët Hennessy and fashion house Louis Vuitton. In the years since, Arnault has increased his hold on the concern by purchasing additional shares. At the same time, LVMH has grown rapidly by purchasing other brands. Among the most recent acquisitions is the world famous American jewelry company Tiffany’s, which was acquired in 2020 for almost 14 billion euros.

Almost 40 years after leaving the construction industry, Arnault heads the world’s largest group of luxury brands. His company has a value of more than 400 billion euros, and a turnover of more than 64 billion euros in 2021. Arnault’s net worth is estimated at 211 billion. According to the annual business magazine ranking Forbes He will be the richest man on Earth in 2023.

Homework support

According to those who know him, Arno is well aware of where his boundless ambition comes from. In profiles in, among others Le Monde and the French Journal capital It is often about how much value a business person places on a good upbringing. He’s got one: His parents and grandparents taught him the importance of hard work at an early age.

in Le Monde The Frenchman tells how, at the age of seven, he went with his paternal grandfather to visit construction sites. When his other grandfather died, ten-year-old Arnaud put his school reports in the coffin. He attended the best French schools, including the famous one Grand School Polytechnic in Paris.

The billionaire chose the same intensive upbringing for his children. They were taught good manners from an early age, went to good schools and took tennis and piano lessons. Despite his busy life, Arnaud was closely involved: for several years he ended his workday at 6 am so that he could make sure his children did their homework.

Arnaud was deeply involved in the upbringing: he finished his workday at 6 am so that he could make sure his children did their homework

LVMH business magazine took place in their youth at all capital three years ago. Arnault taught his children early on how to determine the quality of leather, asking them what they thought of the furnishings during shop visits. His third child, Alexander, joked in the magazine that he is 28 and has 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. Delphine’s daughter, the eldest, had already started at LMVH in 2001. The youngest, Jean, joined exactly twenty years later, at the age of 22.

Of the five, Jin has yet to prove himself the most: he is the only one who has not yet sat at the top of a major brand. His older brother Frédéric, the fourth child, is now CEO of the TAG Heuer watch brand. Alexander joined the board of directors of newly acquired Tiffany’s in 2021 following a management role at German bag maker Rimowa.

The highest places are temporarily held by the two eldest children from Arno’s first marriage. Just before the end of the year, it was announced that Antoine would become CEO of Christian Dior SE, the family business where his father had placed his interest in LVMH. Last week, her daughter Delphine also received a promotion: she will become the best woman of the fashion house Dior; Not the bulk of LVMH, but the brand its father feels.

spotlight

What can be deduced from such transformations? Father Bernard Arnault has not released anything on this subject yet. Senior executives at the Financial Times said a few years ago that the topic of business succession is taboo, even at the helm of a company. Arno shares his thoughts on the matter with only a handful of confidants, who must first swear an oath of their appreciation.

Meanwhile, the businessman is trying to give as few signals as possible to the outside world, Capital magazine writes. If he’s on business with Alexandre one week, he’ll take Frédéric with him the next, so that all of his children get roughly the same amount of time in the spotlight. According to a source at the head of the company, no decision has been made yet, according to what he told Le Monde newspaper. “But the race is on. The winner must distinguish himself in the years to come.”

Until then, the kids themselves are keeping their heads down, too. None of them openly expressed their ambition to ascend to the throne. “I don’t know – it wasn’t planned,” Delphine once said in a fashion magazine. W Magazine. “My dad is still young, and I don’t think he’ll ever stop working.”

Delphine Arnaud (47)

As the eldest child and only daughter, Delphine Arnaud has a special bond with her father. She studied at the London School of Economics, and then at the prestigious Edhec Business School. After two years working at consulting firm McKinsey, she joined Dior in 2001 and brought some of its top designers to LVMH. In 2013, she became vice president of Louis Vuitton, the company’s largest brand. Delphine is Dior’s first director since this spring. She is also a member of the LVMH Board of Directors.

Anthony Arnaud (45)

At a younger age, Antoine was accordingly Le Monde Like a cross in the family. Instead of studying, he preferred to spend his time playing poker. To his father’s satisfaction, he completed a management course at the French business school INSEAD at the age of 28. Antoine started at LVMH in marketing and became head of that department. After ten years as CEO of the Berluti shoe company, he’s now a senior boss at the umbrella holding company where his father set his interests.

Alexandre Arnaud (30)

Of the five children, Alexander was the first to pass the entrance exam to the prestigious Grand School. Only he was unable to enter the Polytechnic, the college where his father studied and which, according to the elder brother Antoine, is in fact the only course of interest to Arnaud Sr. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from another university of applied sciences, Alexander was accepted for his master’s degree. After four years as best man at bag maker Rimowa, the third child is now on the board of recently acquired jewelry company Tiffany’s.

Frederic Arnault (28)

What Alexandre Arnault failed to do, his younger brother Frédéric did: he was admitted to a polytechnic. According to Capital magazine, he is the least appreciated, but also perhaps 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 of his friends, which he sold by the millions. In 2020, he – barely 25 years old – became CEO of the exclusive watch brand TAG Heuer.

Jean Arnaud (24)

Just like his older brother Frédéric, Jean Arnault, the youngest of the five, is also involved in watchmaking. After studying mechanical engineering and financial mathematics at the best American university at MIT, he started in 2021 at the age of 22 in the watch branch of Louis Vuitton. He is now responsible for product development and marketing.

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