The race to inherit the empire of the world’s luxury king

Arnault’s changes mean he doesn’t have to retire next year as originally expected. That hasn’t stopped speculation about whether he can ensure that his heirs avoid a Succession-like drama. (The French media is full of headlines comparing the Arnaults with the Roys, the fictional family in the HBO series. The family hates this talk, and takes pains to play down parallels to the show.)

At 28, Frederic Arnault is the CEO of Tag Heuer.

At 28, Frederic Arnault is the CEO of Tag Heuer.

The eldest sibling is Delphine, 48, chair and CEO of Christian Dior Couture and a member of the LVMH executive committee and its board. Antoine, 46, is not only in charge of the group’s image and sustainability efforts but CEO of its menswear brand Berluti, chair of the Italian luxury house Loro Piana, CEO of Christian Dior SE and a member of the LVMH board. Both are from Arnault’s first marriage, to Anne Dewavrin. The youngest three are from Arnault’s second marriage, to Hélène Mercier, a Canadian concert pianist: Alexandre, 31, is executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany; Frédéric, 28, is CEO of Tag Heuer; and Jean, 24, is Louis Vuitton’s watch director.

In a rare interview in LVMH’s headquarters in Paris, Arnault brushed off any comparison with television’s Roys.

“It’s not an obligation, nor inevitable, that a kid is my successor,” he said. “The best person inside the family or outside the family should be one day my successor. But it’s not something that I hope is a duel for the near future.”

Every month, the five siblings meet with their father over lunch on the top floor of LVMH’s headquarters.

For an hour and a half, they discuss business, including finances, upcoming product introductions and the social media payoff of over-the-top events. For example, a Vuitton menswear show by the brand’s new designer Pharrell Williams attracted such names as Kim Kardashian and LeBron James, resulting in over 16 million YouTube hits.

“Make no mistake,” Jean said. “We discuss things, but at the end, it’s he who decides.”

Amid the bonhomie, the siblings say, Arnault is gauging how each of his children is measuring up.

A graduate of France’s elite École Polytechnique, Arnault honed his children’s math skills nearly every night before dinnertime. Antoine recalled that getting anything less than a perfect grade on important exams “wasn’t acceptable.”

Ian Rogers, a former chief digital officer at LVMH, said Alexandre had told him, “My business education started when I was 9, at the breakfast table.”

By age 10, Delphine was accompanying her father to Dior stores. He has made weekend inspections of LVMH properties in Paris with his children a routine for more than three decades.


The father paired each of his children with a mentor as they entered the business, to teach them the brands and monitor their performance. Delphine and Antoine started in novice positions before ascending to the C-suite. The three youngest moved more quickly into senior roles, “probably because he feels time is running out and he needs to speed up the process of learning,” said Pierre-Yves Roussel, a former chief of the LVMH fashion group and the current CEO of Tory Burch.

All of them understand that the family itself is now as much a brand as the brands they own, and have wasted no time making their presence known.

In less than two years at Tiffany, Alexandre helped seal a deal with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, creating a social media sensation. (In 2016, Alexandre persuaded his father to acquire Rimowa, a German maker of aluminum suitcases, which was founded in 1898. He immediately set about making the utilitarian luggage company cool.) Delphine created the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, a high-profile talent competition. And Antoine has thrown wide the previously closed doors of many LVMH companies with a series of “open days” that invite the public inside factories and workshops.

The question now is who can keep desirability at the heart of LVMH in an age of protests and global economic uncertainty.

Arnault insisted repeatedly during the interview that his main goal was not profits. “It’s desirability,” he said, “and we must make sure that in 50 years we are still at the top.”

“Desirability,” said Roussel, is the most popular word at the company. But it highlights a potential problem, he said: “A consumer waking up and saying, ‘You know, I’m buying this product, but there’s someone making so much money out of it.’

“Is it desirable that you’re buying a product from someone who is the richest man in the world?”

In France, Arnault is a divisive figure: hailed by the business and political worlds for building the country’s biggest corporate titan, and reviled by others for his almost unimaginable wealth.

In April, as France’s nationwide protests gathered steam over President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to raise the retirement age two years to 64, demonstrators broke into the LVMH headquarters, denouncing Arnault as the embodiment of the ultrarich. “He is a symbol of what is wrong in this society!” one shouted.

“There’s the risk that none of us is able to run the business as well as he has.“: Alexandre Arnault, vice president of Tiffany & Co.

“There’s the risk that none of us is able to run the business as well as he has.“: Alexandre Arnault, vice president of Tiffany & Co.Credit: Getty Images

The question now is who can keep desirability at the heart of LVMH in an age of protests and global economic uncertainty.

Last year, Arnault tinkered with the corporate structure of his empire, concentrating decision-making with his five children. Each has a 20 per cent stake, and they cannot sell their shares for 30 years without unanimous board approval.


His heirs “have been schooled by the best player in the world: All of them know the business,” said Sidney Toledano, head of the LVMH fashion group and one of Arnault’s longest-serving executives. “Are they going to be the pilots? Maybe.”

If the next CEO is not named Arnault, the children say they are OK with that. After all, Alexandre said, “there’s the risk that none of us is able to run the business as well as he has.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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