While he’s not as popular as Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk in the U.S., Bernard Arnault doesn’t need to be — he’s the richest person in the world and may have the most unique story amongst his billionaire peers.
Arnault, 73, born in France, may be most well-known today for his founding and current leadership of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, but how he got there involved one French Franc ($0.16 USD), real estate in the French Riviera, and condominiums in Palm Beach, Florida.
Estimated to have a net worth of $201.8 billion, making him the richest person in the world ahead of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Arnault graduated from the École Polytechnique in Paris with a degree in engineering before beginning a career at his father’s construction firm Ferret-Savinel.
Around five years into being at his father’s firm, he convinced the company and his father to liquidate the construction division and enter the real estate market — Arnault earned $15 million in the sale.
Under the name Férinel, the family company initially developed specialty holiday accommodations. Named a company director in 1974, and named CEO in 1977, Arnault started building timeshares on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern France.
Shortly after in the 1980s, Arnault moved to the U.S. and started developing condos in Palm Beach, while simultaneously building a U.S. branch of his family’s property business amid socialist power in France.
The French Socialists switched to a more conservative economic course in 1983, prompting Arnault to return to his native France — this is where the one French Franc comes in.
Arnault heard that the French government was set to choose someone to take over the Boussac Saint-Frères empire, a bankrupt textile and retail conglomerate that owned Christian Dior.
With the help of a managing partner of the French bank Lazard Frères and Co., Arnault paid a symbolic one Franc for Boussac, which held other companies outside of the luxury fashion brand.
Soon after acquiring the company, Arnault would buy other luxury brands like Celine and Christian Lacroix.
Later in 1987, he worked with Alain Chevalier, CEO of Moët Hennessy, and Henry Racamier, president of Louis Vuitton, to form the LVMH brand.
After a series of bold and strategic moves in 1988 and 1989, Arnault became the largest shareholder and was unanimously named the chairman of the executive management board of LVMH.
Today, LVMH owns luxury brands like Dom Pérignon, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, Tiffany & Co, and many more known brands making it worth more than $412.1 billion.
Many of the world’s billionaires and millionaires got their start in real estate, and it’s now easier than ever for retail investors to get in on this market. New companies have innovated ways for individual investors to get involved with real estate for as little as $100 (or more, depending on your appetite). Here’s how to buy shares of rental properties to earn passive income and build long-term wealth, like Arnault.