Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault is a French billionaire businessman and art collector. He is the chairman and chief executive of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE, the world's largest luxury-goods company. In April 2018, he became the richest person in fashion, topping Zara's Amancio Ortega. Arnault briefly surpassed Jeff Bezos to become the richest person in the world in December 2019. He again became the world's richest person for a short time in January 2020.
Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault was born on 5 March 1949, in Roubaix, France. His father, manufacturer Jean Léon Arnault, was a graduate of École Centrale Paris. His mother, Marie-Josèphe Savinel, had a "fascination for Dior", and was the daughter of Étienne Savinel, who entrusted her husband with the management of his civil engineering company Ferret-Savinel in 1950, and later its ownership. Ferret-Savinel later became Ferinel, and then the George V Group, before selling its real estate assets to Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE), and the real estate business eventually became Nexity.
Arnault was educated at the Lycée Maxence Van Der Meersch in Roubaix, and the Lycée Faidherbe in Lille. In 1971, he graduated from the École Polytechnique, France's leading engineering school, and began work for his father's company.
He began his career in 1971, working for Ferret-Savinel, a company owned by his father, and was its president from 1978 to 1984.
In July 1988, Arnault provided $1.5 billion to form a holding company with Guinness that held 24% of LVMH's shares. In response to rumors that the Louis Vuitton group was buying LVMH's stock to form a "blocking minority", Arnault spent $600 million to buy 13.5% more of LVMH, making him LVMH's largest shareholder. In January 1989, he spent another $500 million to gain control of a total of 43.5% of LVMH's shares and 35% of its voting rights, thus reaching the "blocking minority" that he needed to stop the dismantlement of the LVMH group. On 13 January 1989, he was unanimously elected chairman of the executive management board.
Since then, Arnault has led the company through an ambitious development plan, transforming it into one of the largest luxury groups in the world, alongside Swiss luxury giant Richemont and French-based Kering. In eleven years, the sales and profit rose by a factor of 5, and the market value of LVMH multiplied by 15. He promoted decisions towards decentralizing the group's brands. As a result of these measures, the brands are now viewed as independent firms with their own history.
In July 1988, Arnault acquired Céline. In 1993, LVMH acquired Berluti and Kenzo. In the same year, Arnault bought out the French economic newspaper La Tribune. The company never achieved the desired success, despite his 150 million euro investment, and he sold it in November 2007 in order to buy a different French economic newspaper, Les Échos, for 240 million euros.
In 1994, LVMH acquired the perfume firm Guerlain. In 1996, Arnault bought out Loewe, followed by Marc Jacobs and Sephora in 1997. These brands were also integrated into the group: Thomas Pink in 1999, Emilio Pucci in 2000 and Fendi, DKNY and La Samaritaine in 2001.
In the 1990s, Arnault decided to develop a centre in New York to manage LVMH's presence in the United States. He chose Christian de Portzamparc to supervise this project. The result was the LVMH Tower that opened in December 1999.