World's richest family: Speculation looms about LMVH line of succession

World's richest family: Speculation looms about LMVH line of succession
Bernard Arnault, CEO of, LVMH, speaks at a conference at the French École Polytechnique entitled: "LVMH: construction of a worldwide French leader." Credit: Jérémy Barande / Ecole polytechnique Université Paris-Saclay

France no longer has any royals but the Arnault family could be the closest thing to it. The French family owns an array of luxury brands under the umbrella Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). On Tuesday, this empire exceeded €400 billion in market value on the Paris stock exchange.

The LMVH brand spans 75 luxury companies such as Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. Bernard Arnault is the family's patriarch but despite his age (73), it is unclear which of his five children will inherit the vast legacy. There is media speculation that a family feud has been ongoing for years regarding the issue of succession.

Two recent promotions within the business have rekindled conjecture about who will inherit the family empire. The eldest son Antoine (44) in December took the helm of the holding company Christian Dior, while his sister Delphine (47) was promoted to CEO of the Christian Dior Couture earlier this month.

The family speak several times a day and live in Paris' most fashionable districts. They gather at monthly meetings at LMVH's headquarters – part family lunch, part business meeting, Le Monde reports.

Arnault's five children (Delphine, Antoine, Alexandre, Frédéric and Jean) from two marriages get quizzed on business matters such as hiring designers or acquiring new brands.

Belgian passport

Bernard is now the world's richest man and still holds the shares to 25% of the company. Yet the shares over the years have been distributed among his children to ease the succession and one day avoid inheritance tax.

For Arnault, the issue of what will happen to the family empire after his death is a big concern. He was lampooned in France in 2013 for unsuccessfully applying for Belgian nationality to escape the wealth tax in France.

Asked about why he tried to get Belgian nationality, Arnault would reply that he didn't apply to leave France or evade taxes. Rather, he was concerned about his family business.

Despite these concerns, sources close to Arnault say that he cares very much for his children. He is said to have few friends and lives a disciplined life, getting up every day at 06:30, playing tennis every week, eating healthily and only travelling when business requires.

Strict upbringing

In their childhood, Arnault would teach his children maths in the evenings. The family unit was close and there are no indications of early fallings-out. Not simply a business man, Arnault check his children's homework and played an active role in their early lives.

Despite the family's wealth affording them the best education, it doesn't seem as though they lived a life of excess. They had to follow a regimen of piano lessons, learning several sports and attending strict Catholic elite schools. Expenses were controlled and partners were screened.  From an early age, they associated with business leaders to prepare them for the family empire.

In the book 'Succession: money, blood and tears', authors Raphaëlle Bacqué and Vanessa Schneider write it was not a house for the lazy or for daydreaming.

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The now 44-year-old Antoine reportedly had the most trouble with the disciplined upbringing and it took years for Arnault to recognise the talents of his eldest son, reportedly a better poker player than student.

Antoine recounts how his father a long time to appreciate his talents in human relations rather than the polytechnic fields. Arnault appears to have been sceptical of the merits of green transition, something which Antoine only recently succeeded in convincing him of.

Yet Arnault's three youngest children could be contenders for the dynasty as they all have notable roles within the multinational company. Alexandre Arnault (30) is a vice president at Tiffany's in New York. Frédéric (28) is number two at the watch company Tag Heuer, while Jean (24) works in Louis Vuitton's marketing department for watches.

All have excelled in the educational and professional path laid out by their father and trained for top management positions. The race to succeed their father may not have broken out into the open, but the issue of succession is far from settled.

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