Francoise Bettencourt Meyers makes history as first female to amass $100bn net worth

L'Oreal heiress is now the world's 12th-richest person after shares in the French beauty company rose to record high

Meet Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the world's wealthiest woman

Meet Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, the world's wealthiest woman
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Francoise Bettencourt Meyers has become 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 $100.1 billion on Thursday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The milestone came as shares of L’Oreal, the beauty products empire founded by Ms Bettencourt Meyers’ grandfather, rose to a record high, with the stock set for its best year since 1998.

She’s now the 12th-richest person in the world, just behind Mexico’s Carlos Slim.

Despite the gain, Ms Bettencourt Meyers’ fortune is still significantly less than that of French compatriot Bernard Arnault, founder of luxury goods purveyor LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Mr Arnault is second in the global ranking – behind Elon Musk – with a personal net worth of $179 billion.

France’s growing domination of luxury retail has spawned several other ultra-rich families, including the clan behind Hermes International, who have amassed Europe’s largest family fortune, and the Wertheimer brothers, who own Chanel.

The reclusive Ms Bettencourt Meyers, 70, is vice-chairwoman of the board of L’Oreal, 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 per cent.

Her sons, Jean-Victor Meyers and Nicolas Meyers, are also directors.

Run by executives from outside the family for decades, the company was founded in 1909 by Ms Bettencourt Meyers’ chemist grandfather, Eugene Schueller, to produce and sell a hair dye he had developed.

Ms Bettencourt Meyers keeps her life private, shunning the glitzy social life sought by many of 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, Ms Bettencourt Meyers came into her wealth following the 2017 death of her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, with whom she had an at times difficult relationship.

A legal battle in the 2000s grew from a family feud to a political scandal that centred on whether the elderly mother was fit to manage the family’s wealth.

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Last month, Netflix came out with a three-part documentary, L’Affaire Bettencourt, relating the saga that featured former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and secret recordings made by a butler.

L’Oreal grew rapidly in the decade leading up to the pandemic but took a hit during the health crisis when people under lockdown used fewer cosmetics.

But that was followed by a rapid rebound as consumers splurged on luxury items, sending the company's shares up 35 per cent this year.

The company’s stock could rise another 12 per cent over the next year as its product and geographic diversity shows resilience, according to Consumer Edge Research analyst Brett Cooper.

Ms Bettencourt Meyers also chairs her family’s holding company, Tethys, which has the L’Oreal stake.

Her husband, Jean-Pierre Meyers, is chief executive. In 2016, the two set up subsidiary Tethys Invest, 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 chief executive of Tethys Invest is Alexandre Benais, a former Lazard investment banker.

Tethys 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 company is partly funded by L’Oreal dividends.

Updated: December 30, 2023, 8:10 AM