LVMH, with a €365.7 billion market value that is the biggest in Europe, earlier this year lifted the age limit of its chief executive. That would allow Mr Arnault to stay at the helm until 80, a sign he intends to be in charge for longer.
In his quest to stay under the radar, Mr Arnault said in October that LVMH sold its private jet. Twitter accounts follow the planes of billionaires in an attempt to shame them about carbon emissions, and the subject became a hot topic in France, with some politicians proposing to ban or tax private jets.
“With all these stories, the group had a plane and we sold it,” Mr Arnault said on Radio Classique, which is owned by LVMH.
“The result now is that no one can see where I go because I rent planes when I use private planes.”
Though built on mostly successful acquisitions, LVMH and Mr Arnault have had famous losses, too.
He was bested by Mr Francois Pinault, one of France’s richest people, in buying Gucci, which is now part of Kering.
He also failed in a hostile takeover attempt of Hermes International, the Birkin bag maker owned by the country’s richest family. A member of the Hermes clan called him “a wolf in cashmere” for the predatory ways he attempted to take over their company.
Mr Arnault is building a dynasty of his own within LVMH. He has five children from two marriages, all of whom currently work at the firm or one of its brands. His second child, Antoine, 45, just got an expanded role at holding company Christian Dior SE.
Mr Arnault, who is known to keep a strict diet and play tennis regularly, is also an art collector and led the opening in 2014 of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a monumental private art musuem, in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne. The venue is a monumental private art museum designed by architect Frank Gehry, meant to house LVMH’s corporate collection as well as Mr Arnault’s.
Bloomberg’s wealth index estimates the vast majority of Mr Arnault’s fortune stems from his 97.5 per cent stake in Christian Dior, which, in turn, controls about 41 per cent of LVMH. The family holds an additional LVMH stake of roughly 6 per cent.
Mr Arnault has an estimated US$10.3 billion in cash and other assets, based on an analysis that includes dividends, taxes and charitable contributions.
He is the fifth person ever to rank No. 1 on Bloomberg’s wealth index since it debuted in 2012. The others are Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Mr Musk.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.