Bernard Arnault tipped to become world’s richest person

Frenchman’s Tiffany takeover set to further boost coffers

Bernard Arnault
French billionaire Bernard Arnault is buying the New York jeweller for more than $16bn
(Image credit: GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernard Arnault may not have the name recognition of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, but the French billionaire is on track to overtake his US rivals to become the richest person in the world.

According to real-time wealth rankings tracked by Forbes, Arnault is worth in excess of $107bn (£83bn) - more than the GDP of most countries. And now his company, LVMH, has announced plans to buy iconic New York jeweller Tiffany & Co for $16.2bn (£12.6bn).

Arnault reportedly told US President Donald Trump to expect a “significant” acquisition in the US shortly before finalising his move to take over Tiffany, reports stock market news site Markets Insider.

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Who is he?

The 70-year-old business magnet is chair and chief executive of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, also known as LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company.

He is the richest person in Europe and current third richest in the world.

Arnault tends to stay out of the spotlight but occasionally shares his feelings on the state of the world.

According to the Business of Fashion site, the tycoon criticised teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg earlier this year for “indulging in an absolute catastrophism about the evolution of the world”, adding: “I find it demoralising.”

How did he make his billions?

After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris in 1971, Arnault went to work for his family’s construction company, Ferret-Savinel, as an engineer. However, he quickly convinced his father to sell the firm for 40 million francs and enter the real estate market under the company name Ferinel.

By 1979, the future billionaire had replaced his father as president of Ferinel, which he then expanded and diversified through the acquisition of luxury goods brands.

The company would become the world leader in luxury, thanks to the work of “the wolf in the cashmere coat”, who shocked the French business community with his “ruthless acquisitions of hallowed family brands in the 1980s and 1990s”, says The New York Times.

Arnault has invested in everything from Netflix and yachts to supermarkets, as well as becoming an art collector, buying works by artists including Picasso and Andy Warhol.

Can he pip Gates and Bezos?

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world as things stand, with a net worth of around $111bn (£86bn), according to both Forbes and the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is just behind on $110bn (£85.5bn).

But Arnault is racing up from the rear, sitting just a few billion dollars short of the top spot. Indeed, the Frenchman’s takeover of Tiffany “puts Arnault within spitting distance” of that goal, says CNN.

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