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If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that France is a billionaire’s paradise. From the long, sandy beaches of Cannes to the high-end Parisian suburbs and the French Riviera, it’s the place to be if you’re a billionaire.
But who are the richest people in France? How did they do it?
We’ve put together a list of the top 10 richest people in France, including their net worth, the industry they’re in, and how they actually made it into list in the first place.
10. Alain Mérieux
Net worth: €8.2 billion ($9.3 billion)
Alain Mérieux, the 277th richest person in the world, lives in Lyon, France. He’s the grandson of Marcel Mérieux, who founded Institut Mérieux in 1897 — originally called Institut Biologique Mérieux. He took over as chairman in 1968, where he aimed to improve medicine and public health all around the world through the work of the institute.
Merieux was once involved in politics, where he was first vice-president of the board of the Rhone-Alpes region for over 10 years, before taking over his grandfather’s company in the pharmaceutical industry.
9. Xavier Niel
Net worth: €8.8 billion ($10 billion)
High school dropout Xanier Niel is a renowned technology entrepreneur who owns over 70% of the publicly traded company Iliad. Groupe Iliad has over 15,000 employees and over 41 million active subscribers, which explains the creator’s vast wealth.
Niel’s initial venture, which he started at age 25, was the first internet provider in France, WorldNET. He was involved in World-NET for seven years but eventually sold his shares for $50 million — a great triumph for a man born into a middle-class family.
8. Rodolphe Saadé
Net worth: €10.9 billion Euro ($12.4 billion)
Rodolphe Saadé, son of shipping magnate Jacques Saadé, is the chairman of the CMA CGM shipping company. He took over in 2017 following the death of his father and runs the business along with his siblings and mother. The company is the world’s third-largest shipping company and ships to approximately 420 ports in over 160 different countries.
Saadé clearly has his work cut out, though. The company, based in Marseille, has assets of over $32 billion and revenue streams in 2020 of over $31 billion.
7. Patrick Drahi
Net worth: €11.8 billion ($13.4 billion)
Although not a French-born billionaire, Patrick Drahi still makes the list after moving from Morocco to France at age 15. He began engineering studies at the École Polytechnique in Paris, and in 2001 went on to create the Netherlands-based telecommunications company Altice.
Since then, he’s acquired numerous media and communications providers in France, Israel and Portugal. Under his control, Altice expanded into the US market in 2015 to purchase controlling stakes in cable providers Suddenlink Communications and Cablevision, consolidating them into the newly formed Altice USA in 2017. Although Drahi was implicated heavily in the Panama Papers scandal in 2016, the Geneva-based magnate continues to see his bank balance thrive.
6. Emmanuel Besnier
Net worth: €19.1 billion ($21.7 million)
Another billionaire to inherit his father’s company and fortune, Emmanuel Besnier has been the CEO and controlling shareholder of the dairy giant Lactalis since 2000. The company, which includes Parmalat, Président and Stonyfield Farm among its brands, is also co-owned by Emmanuel’s younger siblings, Jean-Michel and Marie.
Educated at the renowned ISG Business School in Paris, the CEO is notoriously publicity-shy, earning him the nickname ‘the invisible billionaire’ in the French media.
5. Gérard Wertheimer (tie)
Net worth: €34.5 billion ($39.2 billion)
Following a controversial business arrangement in 1924, Gerard Wertheimer’s grandfather Pierre launched the House of Chanel, a small but exclusive fashion boutique built upon the success of the Chanel No. 5 perfume. Now, Gérard — along with his brother Alain — retains control of what has become a global icon, heading the company’s watch division.
A keen equestrian, he invests a lot of time breeding thoroughbred horses at the family’s stable. He’s also made several investments in a number of exclusive vineyards with his brother. He currently lives in Switzerland.
4. Alain Werheimer (tie)
Net worth: €34.5 billion ($39.2 billion)
As the chairman of Chanel, Alain is the more senior of the two Wertheimer brothers, having convinced the board of trustees to hand him the reigns in 1973 at the age of just 25. In 1983, he appointed iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to be the fashion division’s creative and artistic director, thereby revolutionizing the brand and revitalizing the company’s ailing finances.
Alain has little involvement in the artistic vision of the brand, preferring to take a backseat. He tends to shun the limelight, rarely giving interviews or attending Chanel events.
3. François Pinault
Net worth: €42.3 billion ($48 billion)
After borrowing money to start a small timber trading business in 1963, few would have predicted that François Pinault would turn Kering — the name of his fledgeling enterprise — into a multibillion-dollar luxury retail conglomerate. Yet, under the founder’s shrewd leadership, the company now owns a string of household brands, including Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen.
Like many of the billionaires on this list, Pinault is also a keen art collector. His family is estimated to own nearly 3,000 pieces, including original works by Pablo Picasso, Damien Hirst and Martial Raysse, while Pinault pledged to donate €100 million ($113.5 million) for the rebuilding of the Notre-Dame de Paris in April 2019.
2. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers
Net worth: €73.6 billion ($83.6 billion)
The granddaughter of L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers is now the sole heiress of the global cosmetics giant, following the death of her mother, Liliane, in 2017. Following this, she was officially named the richest woman in the world.
Although Bettencourt Meyers now serves the company in a non-executive role, she still retains ownership through her 33% worth of shares. She’s also sat on the board since 1997 and acts as chairwoman of L’Oréal’s holding company. Like Pinault, Bettencourt Meyers is also in touch with her philanthropic side, having pledged €200 million ($227 million) to the planned rebuilding work at Notre-Dame.
1. Bernard Arnault
Net worth: €150 billion ($170.4 billion)
As the chairman and chief executive of LVMH, Bernard Arnault is responsible for the largest luxury goods company in the world. This has made him the richest man in Europe, and the second richest in the world after Elon Musk.
After taking over his father’s real estate company in 1979, Arnault changed direction and began acquiring luxury goods brands, such as Christian Dior. This led to his involvement in LVMH, of which he soon became the controlling shareholder. Since then, the company’s portfolio — and its profits — has increased significantly, with over 70 luxury brands operating under the LVMH umbrella.
Arnault himself is a keen art collector — he opened a $135 million museum in Paris in 2014, featuring works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Yves Klein. He has also donated over $220 million to the rebuilding of Notre-Dame fund and has invested in several online ventures (including Netflix) as well as in the French supermarket giant Carrefour.
Many of the people who made this list were born into their billionaire status through familial ties. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to become a billionaire through sheer determination and hard work. There are many self-made billionaires in the world, too!
If you’re a budding, skilled entrepreneur, take note of these names and look further into how they achieved their vast wealth. Although they’ve (mostly) inherited their company, that doesn’t mean they haven’t put in the work. Everyone on this list will have made mistakes, lost money and made bad choices at some point in their career. I’m sure if you could sit and have a conversation with them, they’d tell you exactly that.
Do you look up to any of these French billionaires? Let us know in the comments section below.
Originally published on 30 May 2019. Updated by Hayley Ramsey.