Francoise Bettencourt Meyers became the first woman to amass a $100 billion fortune, marking another milestone for the heiress and for France’s expanding fashion and cosmetics industries.
Her wealth jumped to $100.2 billion on Thursday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The milestone came as shares of L’Oréal SA, the beauty products empire founded by her grandfather, rose to a record high, with the stock set for its best year since 1998.
Despite the gain, Bettencourt Meyers’ fortune is still significantly less than that of French compatriot Bernard Arnault, founder of luxury goods purveyor LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, who was second in the global ranking with $179.4 billion as of Wednesday’s close. France’s growing domination of luxury retail has spawned several other ultra-rich families, including the clan behind Hermes International SCA, who have amassed Europe’s largest family fortune, and the Wertheimer brothers who own Chanel.
The reclusive Bettencourt Meyers, 70, is vice-chair of the board of L’Oréal, a globe-spanning €241 billion ($268 billion) company in which she and her family are the single biggest shareholders with a stake of nearly 35%. Her sons, Jean-Victor Meyers and Nicolas Meyers, are also directors. Run by executives from outside the family for decades, the firm was founded in 1909 by Bettencourt Meyers’ chemist grandfather, Eugene Schueller, to produce and sell a hair dye he had developed.
Bettencourt Meyers keeps her life private, shunning the glitzy social life sought by many the world’s wealthy. She has written two books — a five-volume study of the Bible and a genealogy of the Greek gods — and is known for playing piano for hours every day.
As an only child, Bettencourt Meyers came into her wealth following the 2017 death of her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, with whom she had an at times contentious relationship. A legal battle in the aughts grew from a family feud to a political scandal that centered on whether the elderly mother was fit to manage the family’s wealth. Last month, Netflix Inc. came out with a three-part documentary, L’Affaire Bettencourt, relating the saga that featured a former French president and secret recordings made by a butler.
L’Oréal grew rapidly in the decade leading up to the pandemic but took a hit during the health crisis when people under lockdown used less makeup. That was followed by a rapid rebound as consumers splurged on luxury items, sending the shares up 35% this year.
The company’s stock could rise another 12% over the next year as its product and geographic diversity shows resilience, according to Consumer Edge Research analyst Brett Cooper.
Bettencourt Meyers also chairs her family’s holding company, Téthys, which has the L’Oréal stake. Her husband, Jean-Pierre Meyers, is chief executive. In 2016, the two set up subsidiary Téthys Invest SAS, which bets on areas that don’t compete with the company.
With the stated intention of making “direct long-term investments in entrepreneurial projects,” the CEO of Téthys Invest is Alexandre Benais, a former Lazard Ltd. investment banker.
Téthys Invest recently acquired a stake in French insurance broker April Group. Last year, it bought into decade-old fashion brand Sezane, and has also invested in French private hospital operator Elsan. The firm is partly funded by L’Oréal dividends.
This article was provided by Bloomberg News.