Every month, Bernard Arnault – now the world’s richest man – invites his five children to have lunch with him at the headquarters of his luxury goods giant LVMH.
But this is no ordinary family meal where they catch up on what they did over the weekend.
Instead, in scenes that could have been plucked from the drama series Succession, Arnault, 74, goes around the table and asks his children one by one for advice on what he should do with the business.
Their answers over the gruelling 90 minutes — where Arnault effectively auditions them to see who will take over the £354billion family business — will help decide their future.
Indeed, these auditions are essential for helping Arnault decide who — out of Delphine, 48, Antoine, 45, Alexandre, 30, Frédéric, 28, and Jean, 25 — will replace him as the head of LVMH and its brands Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Tiffany & Co.
Bernard Arnault and wife Helene Mercier-Arnault, centre, with, from left to right, Alexandre, Frédéric, Jean, Delphine and Antoine Arnault
Bernard Arnault and his daughter Delphine attend the LVMH Prize 2019 Edition at Louis Vuitton Avenue Montaigne Store on March 1, 2019 in Paris
Indeed, what makes this Succession-style story so intriguing — as with the fictional story of the wealthy and back-stabbing Roy family who are jockeying for power of the media dynasty in the HBO show (pictured) — is that all five children from Arnault’s two marriages are employed in the family business.
This is no easy decision for Arnault and it’s been something that has been preying for decades. When asked which of his children he saw as his possible successor, Arnault told his friend over a luncheon near the Champs-Elysees: ‘Well I have five’ before his voice tailed off.
This enigmatic response has been the closest Arnault – dubbed a ‘wolf in cashmere’ – has come to addressing who will take the reigns of the business.
And now, it has emerged that one tactic Arnault is using to determine who will replace him is auditioning his children over monthly lunches at his LVMH headquarters in Paris.
Arnault begins every lunch by reading out topics of discussion from his iPad before going around the table and asking each of his children for advice, people close to the billionaire told the Wall Street Journal.
He will ask them for their opinions on the company’s managers and what they would do with the company – and whether any of their prestigious brands need a shake-up in management or focus.
Since his children were little, Arnault has been preparing them for the moment he decides to step back from his role as the head of LVMH. He would take them on business trips and teach them the importance of maths.
Since then, he has placed all five in senior positions at his prestigious companies, includings Christian Dior, Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton and the watch brand Tag Heuer.
Indeed, what makes this Succession-style story so intriguing — as with the fictional story of the wealthy and back-stabbing Roy family who are jockeying for power of the media dynasty in the HBO show — is that all five children from Arnault’s two marriages are employed in the family business.
And as with Succession, where patriarch Logan Roy’s family are vying for his seat of power, Arnault’s children will be wanting the keys to the family business.
Bernard Arnault (second left), his wife French pianist Helene Mercier (left), their son French businessman Antoine Arnault (right) and his wife Russian model Natalia Vodianova (second right) pose in front of the Louvre in 2017
Bernard Arnault, his daughter Delphine Arnault (left), his son Antoine Arnault (centre right) and Russian model Natalia Vodianova (right) attend the visit at Louis Vuitton in Paris in September 2021
And it’s still not clear who will take over, with Arnault saying the decision will be based on merit. In January, he drew a parallel to his decision to raise the raise the retirement age of LVMH’s chief executive to 80.
‘As to succession, you may also have noticed that the retirement age – which is very much in vogue – has been extended,’ Arnault said.
Arnault’s son Antoine, who is married to Russian model Natalia Vodianova, has long assumed to be the frontrunner.
But rumours have been circling in Paris over whether it would be his eldest child Delphine who would take the reigns after she was promoted over her brother’s head.
The billionaire’s only daughter appeared to edge forward in the race in January after Arnault unveiled her as head of Dior, LVMH’s second-largest brand.
Just days after, she was front row at the Dior runway show in Paris, alongside David Beckham, his youngest son Cruz, British actor Eddie Redmayne and his publicist wife Hannah, the Twilight star Robert Pattinson and model Karlie Kloss.
It was suggested in January that investors ‘do not have a good feel’ for Delphine, while others described her elevation to the head of Dior as a ‘little present from Daddy’.
Delphine’s promotion has parallels with the HBO drama series Succession, in which Logan’s only daughter, Shiv, is shocked when she becomes the favourite to take over the media mogul’s empire.
Delphine Arnault and Karlie Kloss attend the Dior Homme front row during Paris Fashion Week Menswear Fall-Winter 2023-2024 in January
From left to right: Eddie Redmayne, Karlie Kloss, Cruz Beckham, David Beckham, Delphine Arnault, Robert Pattinson and Gwendoline Christie attend the Dior Homme front row during Paris Fashion Week Menswear Fall-Winter 2023-2024 on January 20
Pictured from left to right: Frederic Arnault, Delphine Arnault and Jean Arnault attend the Louis Vuitton Womenswear Spring/Summer 2022 show
Alexandre Arnault, 30, (pictured in Los Angeles in October) is communications manager at Tiffany
Just weeks before Delphine’s promotion, Antoine became the chief executive of the listed company that holds the family’s stake in LVMH.
One of Arnault’s friends, businessman Sidney Toledano, said he is confident that all of the billionaire’s children can work through any disagreements because they have been taught to put the interests of the business first.
‘For now, they get on great,’ Toledano said.
People close to the family also said that the children avoid speaking about who is best at certain jobs or sports to avoid any appearance of conflict.
Toledano said Arnault is ‘above all a pragmatic man’. ‘You have to choose whoever is best at a given point in time considering the challenges. It’s what he does with his managers, his advisers, and I think it’s what he’ll do with his children.’
But the hard-working ethic of the Arnault family was drilled into the children from an early age.
Illustrating this, Antoine, at the age of 14, wrote a letter to his younger brother which read: ‘Dear Alexandre, I hope that your birth went well, and that you’re alright. I advise you to start working right away because otherwise…’
Antoine published this unfinished note on his Instagram account last year.
In April, Arnault became the world’s richest man worth more than £170billion, according to Forbes’ rich list.
The Frenchman first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 1997, when he was worth £2.8billion.
But as revenues grew at the more than 70 luxury brands he owns, Arnault was able to vault into the top 20 richest people by 2005, when he was worth £17billion.
The billionaire lives in a stunning 150-year-old castle (pictured) in northwest Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux, France, with his second wife, Canada-born classical pianist Helene Mercier
The chateau in northwest Saint-Emilion has belonged to the billionaire’s family since 1998.
When the family ski in the Alps at fashionable Courchevel, they stay at their own luxurious hotel, the five-star Cheval Blanc (pictured)
For the past three years, Forbes reports, he has been trailing Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in third place on the World Billionaires list, but he was able to surpass his competitors in 2022 when shares of LVMH climbed 35 percent and he pulled in revenues of £17.4billion.
Arnault is now planning his succession, proposing a reorganization of his holding company, Agache — which holds the bulk of his stock — to give equal shares to his five children.
The billionaire lives in a stunning 150-year-old castle in northwest Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux, France, with his second wife, Canada-born classical pianist Helene Mercier. The chateau has belonged to the billionaire’s family since 1998.
They keep a menagerie of animals including chickens, sheep, donkeys and dogs. There is also a villa near St Tropez and a private island in the Bahamas. There are other homes in New York, Miami and St Barts in the French West Indies.
Arnault also owns stunning home in the ultra-prestigious Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez enclave as well as the Nyn Park estate in Hertfordshire.
When the family ski in the Alps at fashionable Courchevel, they stay at their own luxurious hotel, the five-star Cheval Blanc.