Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault on 5 March 1949, in Roubaix, France as the son of Jean Leon Arnault. His father was a manufacturer who owned a civil engineering company, Ferret-Savinel.
He attended Maxence Van Der Meersch High School in Roubaix. After completing his schooling he entered the prestigious École Polytechnique and graduated with a degree in engineering in 1971.
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He joined his father’s company after graduating from college. He started planning for the company’s expansion and growth and in 1976 he was successful in convincing his father to liquidate the construction division of the company and invest the proceeds in a more lucrative business.
The Arnaults received 40 million French francs from the liquidation of the construction division which they invested in real estate business, which was then a booming sector. Now renamed Ferinel, the company became a very successful one with a specialty in holiday accommodation.
Bernard Arnault became the director of company development in 1974, and was named the CEO in 1977. He succeeded his father as president of the company in 1979.
The French Socialists came to power in 1981, forcing Arnault and his family to move to the United States. Being the astute businessman that he was, he prospered there too, developing condominiums in Palm Beach, Florida. Eventually he began to build a U.S. branch of his family’s property business.
The political scenario in his native France changed in 1983. The French Socialists switched to a more conservative economic course and Arnault decided to return home.
The enterprising businessman saw a lucrative opportunity when the textile firm, Boussac Saint-Frères, went bankrupt. The textile empire comprised several businesses, including the couture house of Christian Dior. Arnault collaborated with Antoine Bernheim, managing partner of the investment firm of Lazard Fréres who arranged the financing for Arnault's acquisition of Boussac.
Arnault invested $15 million of his own money, and Bernheim helped him to raise the reminder of the reported $80 million purchase price of Boussac Saint-Frères. Upon this acquisition, Arnault sold most of the company’s assets, retaining only the prestigious Christian Dior brand and Le Bon Marché department store. He became the CEO of Dior in 1985.
After selling off most of the assets of Boussac, Arnault gained $400 million in the process. In 1987, he was invited to invest in LVMH by the company’s chairman, Henri Racamier. Arnault chose to invest through a joint venture with Guinness PLC that held 24% of LVMH's shares. Over the next couple of years, he continued to buy more shares in the company, spending several hundred millions in the process.
By January 1989, Arnault had managed to gain control over 43.5% of the shares of LVMH with 35% of the voting rights. He was then unanimously elected chairman of the executive management board.
After taking over LVMH, he fired several of the company’s top executives and chose to recruit new talent to revitalize the company. He was a tough taskmaster and was known for his inclination to quickly terminate employees who did not deliver according to his expectations.
He set about implementing an ambitious plan of growth and expansion of his businesses and acquired several other companies over the 1990s, including the perfume firm Guerlain (1994), Loewe (1996), Marc Jacobs (1997), Sephora (1997), and Thomas Pink (1999).