Industries such as tech, real estate, energy, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and entertainment constitute some of the major money-spinners in the world. But another sector that is booming and has made billionaires out of several personalities is the beauty business. The global makeup industry, which is estimated at $523 billion, is the reason why reality TV star Kylie Jenner is the youngest self-made billionaire in the world. It is also the major contributor to pop star Rihanna’s wealth thanks to her lucrative Fenty beauty line.
Beyond these celebrities, another personality that has benefitted immensely from the beauty business is L’Oréal chairman, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers. Heiress to the most valuable cosmetics company in the world, Bettencourt Meyers has a $71.8 billion net worth which makes her the richest woman in the world. She is also one of the 20 richest individuals in the world as well as the 2nd richest person in France. It must be known though that she didn’t have it easy getting to this status as she had to embark on a prolonged legal battle with her mother in order to secure her legacy.
L’Oréal was Founded By Francoise Bettencourt Meyers’ Maternal Grandfather Eugene Schueller in 1909
Francoise Bettencourt Meyers’s protracted journey to gaining control of L’Oréal and consequently becoming the richest woman in the world dates back to 1907 when her maternal grandfather, Eugene Schueller, developed an innovative hair dye formula known as Oréale. A trained chemist, Schueller began selling his product to Parisian hairdressers in earnest and it caught on like wildfire. Two years down the line, he registered his company known as the Société Française de Teintures Inoffensives pour Cheveux (English for Safe Hair Dye Company of France).
The company aimed to spearhead innovation and research in the field of beauty and Schueller pursued these goals with admirable devotion. By 1920, he had employed three additional chemists, and 30 years later, the company had about 100 employees. By this time, the company had also diversified from the hair coloring business to other aspects of beauty such as body and skincare, cleansers, makeup, and fragrance.
These innovations predictably led to improved fortunes for L’Oréal and before long, it was generating revenue that ran into millions of dollars. This made Eugene Schueller a respected businessman but that reputation was sullied by his sympathy for fascist and Nazi ideologies. In pursuant of these leanings, the L’Oréal founder provided financial and logistics support for a violent French fascist, anti-Semitic, and anti-communist group known as La Cagoule. He also hired several members of the group as executives in his company after WWII.
Schueller would remain in charge of L’Oréal until his demise in 1957. On a personal note, he was married to a woman named Louise Madeleine and the marriage produced a daughter, named Liliane, in 1922.
Liliane Bettencourt Inherited the Company in 1957
Following the demise of Eugene Schueller in 1957, the control of L’Oréal passed to his only child, Liliane. The young girl wasn’t just some spoilt rich kid who stood around waiting for her father to die to inherit his fortunes. She took an interest in the family business as early as the age of 15 and joined them as an apprentice, mixing cosmetics and labeling shampoos. From this lowly position, she steadily rose through the ranks whilst learning the nitty-gritty of the business. Her father, therefore, had no hesitation bequeathing her majority stake in 1957.
Upon taking over as chairman, Liliane worked to consolidate her father’s achievements. She spearheaded the acquisition of other companies such as luxury beauty brand Lancôme, the American cosmetics company Helena Rubinstein, and American fashion retailer Ralph Lauren. She also warded off possible nationalization of her company’s assets by striking a deal with Nestle Switzerland to purchases a 3% stake in the company.
All these efforts saw L’Oréal grow in leaps and bounds and Liliane became quite wealthy. She, her husband Andre, and daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers lived in the wealthiest and most expensive neighborhood of Paris known as Neuilly-sur-Seine. She also owned an exquisite art collection and even a private island in Seychelles. Liliane also donated generously to charity through the Bettencourt Schueller Family Foundation. She would eventually pass away in 2017.
Francoise Bettencourt Meyers Sued Her Mother to Protect Her L’Oréal Inheritance
Given the normal progression of things, Francoise Bettencourt Meyer should have inherited a stake in L’Oréal and assumed ownership of the company upon her mother’s demise in 2017. It was, however, not so as the lady had to fight tooth and nail to retain what was rightfully hers. The origin of this battle dates back to 1987 when her mother Liliane ran into celebrity photographer and writer, François-Marie Banier.
The two became fast friends and Banier (who was publicly gay) lavished Liliane with such love and devotion, albeit platonic, that they became as thick as thieves. He regularly accompanied her to events and introduced her to a new vista of life. She, on her own part, was quite appreciative and lavished cash gifts, real estate, master paintings, and insurance policies worth about $1 billion on him over time.
Such friendship alarmed Bettencourt Meyers, and her father Andre, but they kept mum as they didn’t know what to do. The lady was, however, forced into action after a household staff revealed to her that her mother was planning to disinherit her and make Banier her son and legal heir. Bettencourt Meyers, who was by then on the board of L’Oréal, didn’t take this lying low and immediately instituted legal action against her mother and Banier in 2007.
She argued that her mother was mentally frail and that Banier had taken advantage of her mother’s frailty to obtain various gifts from her. The trial dragged on for years and shook France thanks to the revelation of damaging private details such as Liliane’s tax evasion schemes, secret Swiss bank accounts, and illegal political contributions. On the family front, mother and daughter were not on speaking terms and their relationship deteriorated.
The court eventually accepted Bettencourt Meyers’ arguments and she was made the legal guardian of her mother in 2011. She was also handed control of L’Oréal in 2012. Three years later, Banier was found guilty of the charges against him. He was given a two-year jail term and ordered to pay about €158 million in damages. He later appealed and the damages and jail term were suspended but his conviction was upheld.
The L’Oréal Chairwoman is Also an Author and Philanthropist
Today, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers controls 33% of L’Oréal stock and is the chairwoman of the family holding company, Tethys. She is also the vice chairwoman of the board of directors of L’Oréal and the chairwoman of the supervisory board of the investment subsidiary, Tethys Investment.
Under her watch, the company has continued to expand. They have made more acquisitions, including Body Shop, Magic Holdings, NYX Cosmetics, IT Cosmetics, Modiface, and Niely Cosmeticos Group. They now have about 88,000 employees and their total assets is valued at $43.81 billion.
Beyond her career with L’Oréal, there is not much insight into Francoise Bettencourt Meyers’ private life. This does not come as a surprise given the media frenzy that surrounded her legal battle with her mother. Such a level of madness would have made her a little gun shy. It is, however, known that the L’Oréal heiress is married to a Jewish man named Jean-Pierre Meyers and they have two sons; Jean-Victor Meyers and Nicolas Meyers. Jean-Victor sits on the L’Oréal board and has been touted as the new prince.
Family is everything pic.twitter.com/IDPl5VQdx0
— Jean Victor Meyers (@JeanVMeyers) May 24, 2016
Asides L’Oréal, Bettencourt Meyers is an author and has penned some books, including a series of Bible commentaries titled A Look at the Bible. She has also continued with the impressive philanthropic work that her forebears started with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation. The foundation promotes life sciences, the arts, and inclusive society through various initiatives. One of them is the Liliane Bettencourt Prize for the intelligence of the hand (for exceptional talent, creativity, and innovation in craftsmanship).
The Bettencourt family also made a $226 million donation to repair Notre Dame Cathedral following the April 2019 fire disaster.
Key Facts About Francoise Bettencourt Meyers
- Francoise is the richest woman in the world with a net worth of $71.8 billion. She owes her fortune to her 33% stake in the L’Oréal cosmetics brand.
- Her maternal grandfather, Eugene Schueller, founded the company in 1909 while her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, inherited it in 1957.
- Bettencourt Meyers sued her mother to avoid disinheritance in 2007. She won the legal battle and assumed control of L’Oréal in 2012.
- Asides from L’Oréal, Bettencourt Meyers is also an author and renowned philanthropist.
- She is married to Jean-Pierre Meyers and they have two sons together.