Billionaires: French luxury magnates finalise €300m in Notre Dame donations

In our fortnightly roundup, rivals Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault give the fire-ravaged cathedral repairs a long-awaited financial boost

Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of French luxury group Kering, left, his father Francois Pinault, right, and Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit, center, pose after signing an agreement to raise money for the rebuild of Notre-Dame cathedral, in Paris, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. French billionaire Francois Pinault and his son Francois-Henri Pinault have made a 100 million euros ($109 million) donation for the rebuilding of Notre Dame Cathedral. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Francois Pinault

French billionaire Francois Pinault and son Francois-Henri Pinault have officially signed documents setting aside €100 million (Dh401m) towards rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral, following months of delay that left officials largely reliant on small charity donations to fund the first phase of repairs.

The Pinaults signed the donation agreement at the Archdiocese of Paris last week. The money will give the Notre Dame Foundation a much-awaited financial boost as authorities draw up plans for the cathedral’s reconstruction, following the devastating fire on April 15.

“Everyone gives what he can according to his needs, but the big donors give us breathing room,” said Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit.

Francois Pinault, whose international luxury group Kering owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, pledged the money directly after the fire. His rival, French billionaire Bernard Arnault of luxury goods group LVMH, soon followed suit, pledging €200m. The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation set up from the L’Oreal fortune also promised €200m.

Mr Arnault finalised his donation agreement with the Notre Dame Foundation last month.

Francois Pinault said that they hoped announcing their donation publicly would motivate others to chip in as well.

“It is certainly vulgar to make a gesture and then promote it, but the idea was to generate others,” he said.

The foundation received €36m from 46,000 individuals, 60 businesses and 29 municipalities between April 15 and the end of September, according to a statement.

But big donations, like the Pinaults’, have taken months to materialise.

Dimitri Besse, a public relations representative for the Pinault family, noted that the Pinaults donated more than €10m in emergency funds in June at the foundation’s request.

Mr Aupetit said authorities won’t know the total duration and cost of the project until the spring. Simply preserving the damaged building in its current state costs €31m, he said.

Francois Pinault has a net worth of $33.6bn (Dh123bn), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, mainly from his family’s 41 per cent stake in Kering. His son Francois-Henri is the company's chief executive.

French luxury group LVMH Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault presents the group's environmental projects "Life" program (LVMH Initiatives For the Environment) on September 25, 2019 at LVMH headquarters in Paris. / AFP / ERIC PIERMONT

Bernard Arnault

Bernard Arnault’s Notre Dame donation was eclipsed by his comments about teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s climate change discourse, which he found overly pessimistic.

“She’s a dynamic young girl, but she’s surrendering completely to catastrophism,” said the LVMH boss at the luxury giant’s sustainability event in Paris last month. “I find that her views are demoralising for young people.”

The remarks from Mr Arnault, 70, came two days after the 16-year-old Ms Thunberg scolded heads of state at a United Nations summit in New York for doing too little to fight global warming. “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of endless economic growth,” Ms Thunberg said.

Mr Arnault pointed out that recent decades of economic growth had lifted many people from poverty and improved health around the world. “If we don’t want to go backwards, we still need growth.”

He said he preferred actions like those taken by the latest generation of entrepreneurs to integrate environmental concerns into their business plans.

Mr Arnault made his remarks at a press conference about his company’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact and impose stricter controls on its suppliers. The company said in a statement that it was on track to achieve its 2020 goal of reducing carbon emissions in its own operations by 25 per cent compared to 2013, despite increasing sales rapidly during the period.

A day earlier, luxury rival Kering said it would become completely carbon neutral, offsetting all emissions including those from its supply chain through means such as financial support for reforestation projects.

This September, 2019 photo provided by The Wonderful Company shows, from left, Lynda Resnick, California Institute of Technology president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, and Stewart Resnick in the surface science lab at Caltech's Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech says it has received a pledge of $750 million from philanthropists and entrepreneurs Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the Wonderful Company, to support research into environmental sustainability. Caltech said Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019 the commitment is the largest ever for such research. (Rich Prugh/The Wonderful Company via AP)

Stewart and Lynda Resnick

Philanthropists and entrepreneurs Stewart and Lynda Resnick donated a record $750m to the California Institute of Technology for climate change research.

The commitment is the largest ever for such research, the largest in its history and the second-largest given to a US academic institution, Caltech said.

“In order to comprehensively manage the climate crisis, we need breakthrough innovations, the kind that will only be possible through significant investment in university research,” Stewart Resnick said in a statement.

Mr Resnick is chairman and president of The Wonderful Company, which owns such brands as Wonderful Pistachios and Fiji Water, and a senior member of the Caltech board of trustees. Mr Resnick and his wife are worth $9bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Caltech will build a 75,000-square-foot (6,967-square-metre) building that will be called the Resnick Sustainability Resource Centre and serve as the hub for the research as well as provide state-of-the-art undergraduate teaching laboratories.

Areas of research will include building smarter electricity infrastructure, conversion of the sun’s energy into fuels, measuring, modelling and mitigating climate change, managing water resource and global ecology, Caltech said.

In this screen grab taken from Morehouse College, on May 20, 2019, Robert F. Smith, an African-American businessman with a fortune estimated at  USD 4.4 billion, announces to the new graduating class at Morehouse college in Atlanta, Georgia, that he plans to pay off the entirety of their student debt: an estimated USD 40 million on May 19, 2019. - A spokesman said it was the biggest gift in the history of the school, whose graduates include civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Samuel L. Jackson. In recent years, the soaring costs of college education -- and the rising number of defaults -- have made student debt a growing national issue, addressed by many of the Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination. (Photo by - / MOREHOUSE COLLEGE / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /MOREHOUSE COLLEGE" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Robert F Smith

Billionaire Robert F Smith’s surprise pledge to pay off the student loans of Morehouse College’s class of 2019 will cost $34m and will now include federal educational debt amassed by parents.

Students, parents and guardians received the details in an email last month from the Atlanta school. Mr Smith, the founder of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, first disclosed the gift in May during the graduation ceremony.

Mr Smith’s gift is the first in a new Morehouse programme in which the historically black college will solicit donations made specifically to reduce or eliminate its students’ debt.

More than 400 borrowers will be covered by the donation for loan balances held as of August 28, the school said. Some 68 per cent of Morehouse undergraduates have taken out federal loans, in keeping with the national trend, government data show. Morehouse said that the student loan debt at graduation is $35,000 to $40,000.

Mr Smith, in a statement, said the Morehouse programme helps establish a model for colleges and universities “to receive gifts from alumni and other supporters that can offset the burden of student loans and give students the freedom to pursue their dreams, the capital to invest in the economic growth of their families and the time that they can give back meaningfully to strengthening their communities”.

Mr Smith’s net worth is estimated at about $6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 1985 file photo, President Ronald Reagan, left, shakes hands with Barron Hilton upon his arrival at the Capitol Hill in Washington to attend the annual Alfalfa Club meeting. Hilton, a hotel magnate who expanded his father's chain and became a founding owner in the American Football League, has died. Hilton's family says he died Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, of natural causes at age 91 in his Long Angeles home. He transformed Hilton into the industry's top brand during his 30 years as its chief executive. (AP Photo/Budd Gray, File)

Barron Hilton

Barron Hilton, the son of Conrad Hilton who expanded his father’s hotel empire and made the brand a force in Las Vegas gambling, has died. He was 91.

Mr Hilton died on September 19 of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, according to a statement from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

He spent five decades at Hilton Hotels, serving as chief executive for 30 years, starting in 1966. During his tenure, the Beverly Hills, California-based company was the fifth-largest US hotel chain. He was co-chairman in 2007, when Blackstone Group acquired the company — by then the nation’s No 2 hotel operator — for $26bn, including debt.

He amassed a net worth of $1.25bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Hilton oversaw the development of the Carte Blanche credit card, which the company sold in 1966 for $12m to First National City Bank, predecessor to today’s Citigroup.

In the early 1970s, he oversaw the acquisition of the Flamingo Hotel and Las Vegas International, later renamed Las Vegas Hilton. The move made Hilton Hotels the first company listed on the New York Stock Exchange to enter the US gaming industry.

As chairman, Mr Hilton worked with chief executive Stephen Bollenbach to expand the company’s casino operations into Mississippi and Atlantic City, New Jersey, and acquire Bally Entertainment for about $3bn in 1996.

William Barron Hilton was born October 23, 1927, in Dallas, the son of Conrad Hilton and the former Mary Barron, according to the 2014 book The Hiltons. He was 8 when his parents divorced, and away at school when his father married Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1942.

Barron Hilton said he had "a misspent youth" and was "kicked out of four or five schools," according to a 1981 story in People. He said he wasn't close to his father, who was building a hotel empire that began with a site in Cisco, Texas, in 1919.

Mr Hilton skipped college and served in the US Navy. In 1954, he became vice president at Hilton Hotels.

When Conrad Hilton died in 1979, he gave much of his fortune to his private charitable foundation. Barron Hilton challenged his father’s will and after several years of legal wrangling reached a settlement giving him effective control over 34 per cent of Hilton’s shares.

In 2007, Barron Hilton announced that he would follow his father’s example and leave 97 per cent of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The planned gift is projected to increase the endowment to $6.3bn from $2.9bn, according to the foundation.

He was married in 1947 to the former Marilyn June Hawley, who died in 2004. They had eight children. Among his grandchildren are high-living heiresses Paris and Nicky Hilton.