Every company has a story. Learn the playbooks that built the world’s greatest companies — and how you can apply them as a founder, operator, or investor.



Tue, 21 Feb 2023 13:16

We tell the full history of LVMH, and how Bernard Arnault turned a $15m investment in a bankrupt French textile company into the world’s largest individual fortune. It’s a story that’s equal parts Berkshire Hathaway, Steve Jobs and Barbarians at the Gate… and wholly under-appreciated for the genius business model innovations that enabled it. Whatever industry you operate or invest in, there’s so much to be learned from Bernard and LVMH’s complete reshaping of the luxury sector over the past three and a half decades. And oh yeah, it also involves Nazi spies, Italian family murders, Rupert Murdoch, Rihanna becoming a billionaire, Jay-Z’s champagne feuds and Beyoncé wearing a 128 carat diamond. Tune in. :)


Thanks to our fantastic partners, any member of the Acquired community can now get:


Carve Outs:

Listen to Episode

Copyright © Copyright 2022 ACQ, LLC

Read Episode Transcript

All right, David, you ready? I ready. Did you bring a cloth for popping your bottle? Of course I did. The only way to do it, I could have brought a saber. You are far too classy. You did live in France, didn't you? Cloth is getting in the way. Listeners, this is the best. We had planned to open bottles of Moette to start the episode and David is struggling to start his. And weak. Here we go. Hey, that was good. Happy LVMH day, David. Happy LVMH day. Cheers. Cheers, my friend. Santé. Oh, that is good. Welcome to season 12 episode 2 of Acquired, the podcast about great technology companies and the stories and playbooks behind them. I'm Ben Gilbert. I'm David Rosenthal. And we are your hosts. We can glamour it of Moé, Hennessy, Louis Vuitton. Ben, it's not Moé, it's Moette. Yeah, what is the deal with that? The Moette family, even though they are French, it is a Dutch name. So you don't pronounce it like in French. You pronounce it as in Dutch with a hard tea Moette. All right, so it is actually Moette. Brand is so famously squishy in the discussion in all these tech companies that we wanted to dive into a company where it is definitely not squishy. Very quantifiable. Here it is. Alvmh is the 15th largest company in the world today by market cap. It is the only company in that top 15 that is not technology or oil besides Berkshire Hathaway. And Berkshire Hathaway being 25 plus percent Apple at this point, you could argue their market cap comes from being a tech company. Another crazy thing on Alvmh, their market cap has grown 20X in 20 years, which I'll take that any day of the week. Some of you love their products and some of you think they are stupid and frivolous. They have brands across fashion, handbags, perfume, watches, jewelry, wine, spirits, you name it. Travel. They own just an insane number of brands with 75 houses today that include Dior, Louis Vuitton, Moette, Hennessy, Vouveclicot, Dom Perillon, Tiffany, and it's not just the brands. They've expanded into distribution with retail like Sephora and all the duty free shops that you see at airports and they have even recently expanded into travel with Shavall Blanc resorts and other travel companies. And for those of you who have been sort of reading the headlines, this wide sweeping empire is owed and controlled by the now wealthiest man in the world, more than Bezos, Gates, or Elon Musk. Bernard Arno. And, fascinatingly, this richest man in the world wasn't the founder of any of these brands. This story has a dash of Buffett, a little bit of Steve Jobs, and some unbelievable deal-making stories about how Mr. Arno turned $15 million of capital in 1985 into the over $200 billion fortune that it is today. I'm also super excited to do the analysis on this one, David, because the luxury industry is like business strategy, bizzaro world. You need scarcity so there are constraints on your growth. You can't lower your cost structure too much without devaluing your brand. You can't really outsource activities even if they're not your core competencies. So like all the lessons that we've learned on previous episode, it's kind of like the exact opposite of what we'll show up today. Yeah, everything that makes your beer taste better is ephemeral. So you need everything in-house. Totally. And listeners, this one's for you one little detail that I found out before diving into the research. There is literally no one better in the world to cover this than our own David Rosenthal. So David, thank you for agreeing to do this episode. Can you share with us what your college thesis was on? Oh my goodness. I wrote my senior thesis in college on the champagne industry and specifically on the history of Moette. We'll talk about it a little bit later in the episode. It was a very, very bad piece of writing. I was a very lazy student in college, but I have since reformed. I love it. And long time acquired listeners will remember, David actually lived in France for like the first six months of 2017. Yeah. So many an acquired episode recorded with you sitting in Paris. Well, after you finish this episode, come discuss it with the 14,000 other smart, kind, curious members of the acquired community at slash slack. And without further ado, this is not investment advice. David and I may have investments or may want to make investments in the companies that we discuss. And this show is for informational and entertainment purposes. Only indeed. First, we owe a big thank you to Adam Pritzker over at assembled brands and the luxury startup. Kate Adam was one of the co-founders of general assembly back in the day and has just become a wealth of knowledge about the luxury industry. And we had some great conversations with him. We also owe a big thank you to Frederick Keaton over at NECKER value, who I think was the first piece of content that got you really interested in doing this episode, right? Yeah, I read it in Hawaii over the holidays. And that is one of the few sub-stacks that I now pay for. Frederick is awesome. And quasi thank you to eBay, where I was able to buy this book that I'm holding in my hand, the taste of luxury, which is an out of print book from the 90s originally written in French. We had to spend about $400 to buy this thing. It was very rare. And it chronicles kind of in real time the story of Bernard Arnoux taking over LVMH. So David, I've been wondering where are we starting the story? Is it with Dior? Yes. Let's dive in. We start not in 1949 in a small city in the north of France, named Ruby Bay, with the birth of Bernard Arnoux. But actually three very short years earlier, in a very different part of France in Paris in 1946, immediately after the end of World War II. It's going to be fun. This episode has, especially here at the beginning, some Sony similarities. Oh, yeah. And indeed, just like Sony, LVMH and Bernard was a big influence on Steve Jobs and Apple. Yep. So Paris in 1946. It's not quite as bad as Tokyo in 1946, but this is not a happy place. France and Paris, of course, have been occupied during most of the war by the Nazis. And although the economy wasn't totally destroyed like in Japan, it was pretty much entirely shifted during the war to supporting the Nazi war effort. So yeah, let's just say there's a lot of emotional reckoning that needs to happen here in France and all over the world in 1946. So into that time in place, steps one, Christian Dior. And Dior, before the war, had been a designer at various Parisian fashion houses, which were, of course, one of France's most important cultural and economic institutions, with heritage going back to folks like Coco Chanel, who famously created Chanel in 1910, thrived during the rowing 20s, where like a huge part of culture all across the world. I didn't realize this till we did the research. The Chanel perfume, Chanel number five, the most famous fragrance in the world, introduced in 1921. Today, Chanel is a private company, so nobody really knows, but it's estimated that that one fragrance does about three or four billion dollars in revenue a year. Crazy. The war, of course, changes all of this, France is occupied. It's actually really sad. It doesn't come out till just about 10 years ago, but Coco Chanel herself becomes a Nazi agent. Yep, there's a lot of really bad stuff that happens. And particularly to the fashion industry. So there's a great piece in CR Fashion Book about the rise of Dior, and this time coming out of the war in France, it says Nazi ideology, abhorred Parisian styles, and the slender feminine bodies it idealized, arguing that they were both corruptive to natural, strong, area and women. Instead, Adolf Hitler advocated for the practicality and nationalist quality of German dress, which saw women in drab and boxy uniforms. He then took direct aim at the oat coachur industry of Paris, demanding that it operate within Nazi regulations and that all of its exports cease. So Dior had been a successful designer before the war, and then during the war, he kind of gets co-opted into this. He works at the Maison Lucienne Lillong, where he's mostly designing these boxy, uniform-like dresses for the wives of Nazi officers. So after the war, he's one of the few really talented designers out there that are on the market and aren't totally tainted by the Nazis. And the wealthy textile industrialist Marcel Boussac approaches him in 1946 to come and lead and renovate his old flagship Parisian fashion house Philippe Agaston. It's like a beauty in the beast episode here. Dior, though, says, I want to make a fresh start after the war. I think I'd rather do something under my own name than reviving this old brand in Boussac's. Oh, okay, that's fine. Like, we don't need to do that. I agree with you. I'll just finance you, starting this new fashion luxury Maison here and revitalizing the industry in Paris and we'll start fresh. So they get to work. He finances Dior. It's kind of like the story of Fairchild Semi-conductor, but if Fairchild camera and instrument had let the traitorous eight actually name it themselves, but still basically owned by the parent. Yes. Okay. So you got the brand Dior getting started by the actual designer Christian Dior and totally owned by Boussac? Yes, totally owned by Boussac. So Dior gets to work in February 1947. He shows his first collection and it's just incredible. This fashion collection from Christian Dior in 1947 literally changes the world. It is a complete repudiation of not just the Nazi wartime aesthetic, but wartime period. It is the opening of a new chapter for France, for Europe, for the world. It's feminine, it's soft, it has exaggerated silhouettes. Most importantly, his pieces use tons of fabric, luxury fabrics. This was a radical statement. You look at this stuff today and you're like, whatever, that's like clothes from the 40s and 50s. But this is after the war where there's rationing on fabrics. And so these new pieces that are embracing life, embracing luxury in 1947. The war had just ended. This is a radical, radical statement. And to illustrate a thing that would become incredibly important over time, it is all about the creativity of the designer that is the necessary precondition for any other value to be created. You have to have the most hyper creative, talented people in the world to come up with such a radical collection like this. And then of course, not to mention they're producing extremely fine goods. So these things end up going for extremely high prices because they use really rare materials and all that. But it does take this super divergent mind to create the collection. Yes, and the radicalism is super important. This continues to this day in the luxury and fashion industries. This was very controversial at the time. They're actually protests. So this look from Dior comes to be called the new look because at the show introducing it, the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar famously exclaims to Christian. It is quite a revolution, dear Christian. Your dresses have such a new look. Well, it's super wasteful, right? Taking all the best materials and overusing them to create price for a very small set of people. Yes, it's wasteful. It's expensive. The funniest protest is a group called the League of Broke Husbands. It's protesting the extreme cost of these materials and of these fashions. But we can't overstate the cultural importance of this. See our fashion book continues in this article. Beyond fashion, the new look reflected broader cultural sentiments and themes in the post-war era, specifically by creating a look that was so unabashedly opulent, exaggerated, and excited by creating Dior spoke to the universal desire to celebrate life again. And it's not just culturally around the world. This is a financial smash hit home run as well. So two years later, by 1949, Dior fashions were literally 75% of Paris's fashion exports and 5% of the entire nation's export revenue. How very French. And I believe to this day, the luxury industry is the largest export of France. So later in 1947, they launch Christian Dior perfumes with the fragrance mist Dior, very famous fragrance. And then in 1950, the GM within Boussac, who's running Dior as a business, Jacques Ruaille, comes up with a new business model idea. He wants to capitalize on the incredible international success of Dior fashion, but the outculture that custom made incredibly expensive pieces, but also the ready to wear lines that they were producing out of this in standard sizes that women all over the world could buy. And the budding success of the perfume line, he thinks this name, this brand has so much value. What if we license the use of the brand out to other goods producers? We can just basically invent money. And they do. As long as we don't put our foot on that pedal too hard and devalue the whole thing, then this is basically 100% gross margin money found that points at our company. Yes. And it works really well for a long time. I mean, ultimately, the Dior label would get licensed to hundreds of third parties. I believe neckties were the first, but women's hosiery hats, gloves, handbags, you name it. There was a Dior license label out there. Thousands of products manufactured everywhere in the world at every different level of quality, very few of which were actually created by Christian Dior or the Boussac company themselves. Yes. And this is super controversial even at the time. The French Chamber of Culture denounces this as devaluing the heritage of the French luxury and fashion industry, but it's an incredible financial success. And for Gooderbad, Dior is now everywhere. So much so that by the spring of 1957, Christian Dior is on the cover of Time magazine in the US, which was way more important than it is now, of course. And then suddenly, right after that, later in 1957, at the height of his international cultural popularity, he dies suddenly of a heart attack, very unexpectedly. And this is a huge, I mean, it would be a huge deal today if the creative leader of a major fashion house died unexpectedly as happened, sadly often, especially the eponymous creative leader, is literally named after him and founded by him. Yes. There was no concept of fashion labels as existing beyond the person and the artistic director. This was much more like an artist than it was like a business. These labels and houses did not survive the death of their founders. So, Busek and Ruay, they don't know what to do. They're considering just shutting this whole thing down. But there's an option that emerges within the workshop, within the Atelier in Paris. There's this one kid who's got a lot of talent. He's really young. He's 21 years old, but he's already become one of Dior's top assistants by the time of his death. His name is Eve Sanlorel. And so they make the incredibly bold decision to keep the Dior brand business label and promote this kid Sanlorel to artistic director at age 21. And almost as much as Christian Dior revolutionized the world with the new look 10 years earlier, Sanlorel does the same thing again. And he really modernizes fashion. If you go and you look at the new look close now, they're incredible, they're beautiful, but they don't look like anything that people would wear today. If you look at Eve Sanlorel's early designs, that's modern fashion and clothing. He popularizes the pantsuit for women. Oh, I didn't realize. He's probably Hillary Clinton's number one fan. And then later, not within Dior, but within a few years, he designs famously the Mondrian dress, the color block dress that was like so famous and emblematic of the 60s that's Eve Sanlorel. And to this radicalism, to pushing fashion and the world and culture forward, Eve totally takes up the mantle. Unfortunately for Busek, it's a little too extreme for him. This old industrialist guy from the textile business, he doesn't like what Eve is doing. Which probably means he shouldn't own a fashion house. Exactly. He's from a different generation. Yeah. So after three years of Eve Sanlorel running Dior, Busek forces him out in 1960. And Eve after a short period of time, teams up with his life partner and business partner, Pierre Bersier, and of course, starts their own house, Eve Sanlorel. Which we need to put a pin in that to come back much later in the episode because Eve Sanlorel today is owned by the luxury conglomerate, caring. We're going to talk a lot more about and is arguably primarily the number one competitor to LVMH. It all comes full circle. So back to Dior and Busek, they basically never recover from this Busek installs the conservative and older Mark Bohan as artistic director. The innovation is gone. They basically just keep pumping out variations of the new look for the next 10-20 years. And there's a bunch of cash coming in from the franchise licenses, at least for a while, as long as people believe that those still have the magic of Christian Dior himself, which fades over time. Fades very slowly over time. It's 1960 when they push Eve out. And for basically the next 15-20 years, this is just a cash cow that they're milking. Meanwhile, though, unfortunately, the rest of the Busek empire is basically going down the tubes. So it's mostly a textile manufacturing business. They're like 20,000 employees. It's all unionized. France is basically becoming a socialist country. It gets to a point where by the late 60s, they're losing like 20 million dollars a year across the whole company. By the way, how great is it that the Busek empire is a textile manufacturer just like Berkshire Hathaway before Warren Buffett sees the attractive opportunity to come in and buy it? It's amazing. Like all the parallels to so many other great business stories we've told unacquired. They're all here in the LVMH story. It's amazing. So as Busek is going down the tubes, they start trying to sell off pieces of the empire, monetize, do anything they can. I don't know that Busek really cares about saving the company. Maybe he does, but he kind of cares about saving his fortune. Right. Get as much value out as possible. He owns a lot of resources and breeds their overheads. He needs money to do that. So one of the activities that they do to raise cash is they sell off the perfume business within Dior in 1968 to Moet, a chandel, which we haven't talked about yet in the episode. But oh boy, are we going to? Oh, the perfume thing actually does make sense because a major component of manufacturing perfumes is alcohol. So things continue on the downward trajectory. Despite that, and in 1978, the whole Busek group finally files for bankruptcy in what up into this point was the largest bankruptcy in French national history. This is a big deal. And the way bankruptcy works at least at this point in France is that they basically nationalize the assets of the company. Right. Like the government takes over the administration of what was previously the Busek empire. Yes. Like we said, France is basically becoming a socialist country at this point. In this case, the first bankruptcy of Busek, the government doesn't run it for very long because a buyer emerges and they end up selling the company out of bankruptcy to a rag-tag group called the Willow Brothers. They, I believe, made their money manufacturing ace bandages. These are not luxury dudes. It's a total mess. One of the brothers ends up getting arrested for misappropriating funds within the company within a couple of years in 1981. The whole group is back in bankruptcy. Right back where we started. And at this point, there are no real buyers for this thing. Like it's an albatross. So the government takes over running it for multiple years. And interestingly, even though Dior is still somewhat financially performing in the belly of the Buse, from all these licenses to all these other companies. Yeah. Not due to innovation, but the licensing business. Right. It's not that crazy that there's not a lot of suitors for this thing because even if Dior was independent without the right person running it, it's not that attractive of an asset. Right. And it's buried under all of this awfulness. There's 20,000 textile employees, right? They're unionized. The company is losing tons and tons of money. Like this is a bad situation. It may be a diamond buried in there, but it's buried way deep. So enter one Bernard Jean-Atyen Arneau. As we said, Bernard was born in 1949 in Roubaix. I remember 1949. This is what two years after Dior had launched the new look. Supposedly his mother, Marie, had a total fascination for Dior. This is the legend that Bernard tells. And it always stuck with him. And I assume his mom owned pieces of Dior. How did she afford that? Well, his dad and Bernard's family on his dad's side, they're entrepreneurs. They're not just entrepreneurs. They're engineers and entrepreneurs. So his dad, John, ran a company called Farah Seven Yale, which was a quite successful civil engineering and public works construction firm in the north of France. They employed about 1,000 people. It was started by Bernard's grandfather after World War I to rebuild a lot of the infrastructure in the north of France. And the family all lives close together. So his grandparents live right across the street in Roubaix. And Bernard is totally taken under the wing of his grandfather and grandmother, absorbs tons of lessons when his grandfather passes away. I think Bernard's like 10 or so at this point in time. He actually goes and lives with his grandmother across the street. So Bernard's growing up steeped in running this engineering family business. He ends up going for college to the very prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. The French educational system is unique. It's one of the Grande Coles. It's probably the most selective and famous Grande Coles within France. It's kind of like the MIT or the Caltech of France. But with the prestige of Harvard, right? Yes. Engineering is the most difficult and prestigious thing to study at any of these schools. Yes. So especially after World War II in France, engineering is seen as the highest form of education. I actually, because I was a French major, I interned one summer in France in another of the Grande Coles. The Asheset, the Ecole des Oatissues de Camaricelle, which is the main business Grande Cole in France. And so I got to like see and learn about this system. Yeah, it's wild. If you want to enter the Grande Coles system in France, you actually, after high school, take another one to two years, where you just study for the entrance exams. And then the entrance exams are all evaluated blindly. So it doesn't matter what family you're from, what your background is. It's literally just your test scores and your performance on this exam that is your entry into these institutions. And then yeah, once you're there, they're not partying and having fun. They are working their butts off in these schools. And so that's what Bernard goes through. Like this is a very, very different education and background that he's coming from. Then shall we say these traditional family-owned businesses or even like the willows? He is a modern engineer, business man, bred from birth to B. So. So in 1971, he graduates and he goes to work back in the family business. I think this one actually is apocryphal after he graduates. But before he goes to work, he visits America for the first time. He goes on a trip to US. He's told the story so many times every interview. And on this first trip to America, he goes to New York. 1971. He's talking with the cab driver. He says he's from France and the taxi drivers like, oh, I love France. And Bernard's like, oh, yeah, you do. What do you know about France? What do you think of it? Do you know who the President of France is? And the taxi driver says, no, I actually don't know who the president of France is. But I know Christian Dior. I get, I think this story is apocryphal. But the kernel of it is true that even all this time later, the brand value and the impact of Dior even far away in New York, you really can't screw it up. Even though they've been screwing it up, you can't kill it. In other words, the proper noun Dior might be the most recognizable French asset. I mean, maybe like the Eiffel Tower or like the Louvre. It's a pretty short list before you get to Dior. So Bernard goes to work in the family business back in France and five years later, he's doing so well that his father's like, all right, you're groomed to take over. I'm ready to retire. You're an engineer. This is a civil engineering and construction business. You're fully trained. The keys are yours. jointly with this is part of the next generation taking over. He decides and he convinces his father that actually the civil engineering business is not a great growth business to be in and that they should start to transition away from it and into real estate development and that that's a bigger opportunity for the family. So under Bernard's new leadership, they sell off the old industrial construction division. They find a successful niche building vacation homes. Second house is a niece, a French Riviera and throughout Europe. And they do pretty well. They get to a point where they're doing about 15 million a year in revenue. And I would assume much higher margin than the old industrial construction business. So the family is doing great. They're like one of the wealthy, successful family entrepreneurs in the north of France at this point. And then the 1980s come along. The 1980s in France were shall we say very different than the 1980s in the US. That is when the socialist really come to power in the country. Right. It's like the opposite of the pinstripes suits and wall street in the go-go years of American finance. So everything we were talking about the complications with Boussac and the textile workers, that's because France while I'm at around in France comes to power and it becomes much more of a socialist country. So much so that they enact a wealth tax in France. And there's all sorts of opinions about whether something like that is good or bad. Certainly what is inarguable happens is there is an amazing drain of wealth and business talent out of France at this point in time. All right. So America here we come. So Bernard moves his family to America. And this is like my favorite weird twist in the story where Bernard don't know who goes on to become this unbelievably wealthy, high-taste, high-class, high-fashion. Everyone looks up to him in every walk of life because whatever you're doing, whether you're a rap artist or a champagne maker or a president, he has something that you want. He moves to America and develops Palm Beach condos. Yes. He's just looking for an excuse to get out of France. Developing vacation homes is the family business. Yeah. He's like, I think there's an opportunity in the Palm Beach market. And not like fancy high rises, like a 20-unit Palm Beach kind of crappy condo building. Yeah. I don't know if it was a retiree home, but I imagine this is for like snowbirds from the northeast. I think so. And maybe I'm exaggerating with the kind of crappy, but like he did not move to America with this idea of getting into luxury. He moved to America and found what was available. And he says in interviews, it was actually quite hard to break into the business community here. He sort of had all of his connections in France. He had his family lawyer and he had the business confidants and people that trusted him, but he moved here. And he really had a hard time breaking in. This is a far cry from the Bernard Arno that we all know and either love or hate today. Yep. But you're right. He does not break into the elite business community in America. Yeah. But despite most of the business activities being in Florida, he and his family moved to Westchester County in New York. Specifically, they moved to New Rochelle and the buyhouse. And his next-door neighbor there happens to be a guy named John Cluj, which almost nobody, I think listening now, will know that name. But at the time, Cluj was the wealthiest person in America, which is crazy, right? That's a little wild. And this is what? In the 80s, 99% of people listening to this show won't know the name of the wealthiest man in America in the 80s. Right. He literally moves next door. He's like the poor relation next door to America's wealthiest person. And now he is the wealthiest person in the world. Amazing. So what he clues to, this is the 80s in America. What do you think he did? He was an LBO guy. And an LBO guy in the TV industry. Yes. So at this time, Cluj was in the middle of doing the largest LBO ever at that point in time. He was taking Metro media private, which he did successfully. And then of course, like all the corporate readers at the time, they carved it up and they sold off all the assets and literally made billions. I think he made about $5 billion from this. The TV stations that they sell out of this, do you know what they become? I do. And I knew this before researching because I desperately want to do a episode on this at some point. Ah, I thought I was going to get you here. The TV stations that Metro media sells off become the backbone of Fox. Yep. Of the Fox network. So this is so interesting. We didn't talk about this then the NFL episode. But in the 80s, Rupert Murdoch wanted to expand and had this pretty aggressive dream of creating a fourth major TV network in the United States. He wanted to basically create an upstart rival to ABC NBC and CBS and starts Fox out of nothing by buying the assets of Metro media and all those local affiliates for all the new stations become the Fox stations. Yep. From Cluj, which is amazing for so many reasons, especially because it's the best thing that ever happens to the NFL. Totally. So our known clues, they're never actually close, but Bernard is fascinated by him. He's like, tell me of these leveraged buyouts. They seem to be working very well for you. Very, very well. He starts reading all that he can. What is this American concept? Yeah. Like, wow, he's just blown away. He's like, whoa, this is awesome. I want to do that. The French would never do this. American corporate radar thing that you're doing where you're conducting business in this very unconjennial way. And if you're able to do something, you're just going in and doing it and taking what's yours. I've never seen anything like this in France. This is not how anyone behaves. Right. Well, and one of the reasons that Bruce Hack became such an albatross was all these workers within the textile industry that the government's like, you can't lay these people off. You can't fire them. These LBO guys in America are just firing people left and right, selling off divisions, making billions. It could not be more different. All right. So, Arno now knows of the leverage buyout, knows of this cutthroat 80s American business culture. He's not doing such a good job breaking in in the US. He's built these condos, but like whatever he wants to take the nest egg from his family business and sort of turn that into something bigger. He wants to buy something of importance and really blow that up. And I think he wants to take this concept that he just learned from his neighbor in America and bring it back to France. Yeah. And so, he basically puts the word out. He tells his lawyer, he tells his folks he trusts back in France. I'm looking to buy something. So, here's, through the great fine, there's actually the biggest of all opportunities, the troubled Busek empire, of which literally Christian Dior is sitting buried within. Way deep. The government at this point has been operating Busek for a couple of years. It's a disaster. They're finally looking for somebody, anybody to come take this thing off their hands. So Bernard, through his connections back in France, he hooks up with Lazard Flair, the investment bank, specifically the legendary banker within Lazard Antoine Bernheim to put together a bid. Now, Lazard in France is kind of like Goldman plus Morgan Stanley plus JP Morgan. They are the bulge bracket all into themselves. They have immense political connections sort of referred to, especially at the time, as the French under ministry of finance. Kind of like Goldman is sort of like the treasury here, which is crazy. And so, it's fair to say that Bernard has this relationship with high-ups at Lazard because of his family business. He doesn't come from extreme wealth or royalty or anything like that. But coming from a successful wealthy family, he was able to get to know the people that matter in the finance community. Yes, I think that's part of it. There's no way we could really prove or research this, but his first wife came from a kind of even more successful multi-generational industrialist family in the north of France. And I think it's sort of implied and written that connections from her family helped to get him into Lazard as well and into the government to lobby them to let him take over Busek. Either way, no matter how it happens, he does. He gets in good with Lazard. And Bernheim, specifically Antoine, is impressed with this young gun and decides to take a chance on him. So they put together a $60 million bid to take over Busek from the government. And this thing's heberging cash. So the government's like, all right, $60 million to take a lost-making thing off our hands. Okay. Right. Heberging cash, but doing well over a billion dollars in revenue. This is a large asset. The Arno family puts up 15 million. And Lazard goes out and rounds up investors and I think invests some of their own balance sheet into this for the other 45 million. So amazingly, this 35-year-old, I don't want to say kid, if you're 35, you're not a kid. But in France, at the time, like the successful business people, the industrialists of France, they were not 35. Maybe by the time you were in your 60s, you could run a business like this. Here's this relative kid coming back from America, going to take over one of the largest companies in the world. Crazy. And the thing he recognizes here is, again, very buffet-esque. Even though the financials of this business show one thing, doing over a billion in revenue, but doing even more than that in costs, there exists something in here that doesn't really show up on the balance sheet, which is the asset of the dear brand. And if I can do the right things to skinny the business down just to that and then lean into that, how successful could I make dear once I have it? Yes. And this is the big difference between Bernard and his old neighbor. And the reason that you know Bernard Arnose name today and you don't know John Colleges, he takes the tactics of the corporate raiders and the LBOs to get in, to get in. And we're going to tell this whole story and it's amazing. But his goal isn't to carve up these assets and sell them off and make a lot of cash and ride into the sunset. He wants to operate dear and build this into the gem he thinks it can be. Right. He's not looking for the second transaction. He's not doing a trade. He's making an investment. He's not trying to get out. It's all about how can I take frankly something very little, $15 million by something very, very, very large and then continue to do stuff like that. You know, trading the paperclip for the house over and over and over again, but eventually just keeping it all. Yeah. The Buffett analogy is a good one. I think also he's like clues, but he's also like Murdoch. He wants to build Fox too. He wants to take these assets and build it into something for $15 million of capital he's put up. He not only has the losses from Busek to figure out how to handle, but also the debt service on the company. Yep. So pretty much as soon as he takes over, he calls Lazar back in and they immediately start restructuring Busek. So Arno over the next couple of years does what nobody else was willing to do. He lays off about 9,000 of the 20,000 dish workers and he gets reamed for this. The French press dubs him the terminator. This is such a not French, not socialist thing to do. He may be French, but he's like an ugly American coming in and doing this. He goes from being a nobody to a somebody very fast, but not a beloved somebody. But it works within a couple of years. The Busek business as a whole, the empire is doing about $2 billion in revenue and it's back to profitability. It's doing over $100 million in profit and he turns it around. That's so fast. By the way, he went from taking his 15 plus Lazar's 45, so $60 million to buy something that was losing money. And just a couple of years later, he's spitting off over $100 million per year of free cash flow. It's crazy. Yeah, that's crazy. And then part two of the plan. Arno and Lazar, it starts selling off all the old textile assets and industrialist assets. He doesn't want to run these. He wants to do your. So all together, the biggest win here is they sell literally the disposable diaper division of Busek, which is called produce, which is soft skin in English. They sell that for 400 million alone. And then the rest of the textile operations, they offload. They ultimately sell everything except Christian Dior and the famous Bummarshay department store in Paris that was within the group. In total, they make over $500 million selling off these assets. Wow. If Arno were an LBO guy, if he were John Clues, he would be like, oh, hell yeah, mission accomplished. They took 15 million of his own equity, turned that into multiple hundreds of millions of dollars and a cash flow stream from Dior. This is a win. He would go start KKR or whatever, French equivalent in Europe and build that. Yep. But that's not what he wants to do. No. And do you know how much of Dior he owned at this point? I think at this point, he's formed Group A Arno, which is his sort of family office. So you can think of Group A Arno as Bernard's personal wealth. And they owned some percentage, but not all of the Busek Dior holdings at this point. Yeah. So the Busek entity itself, I think, had been renamed a gash after the Willow initial bankruptcy. So yeah, Group Arno owns a majority stake in a gash, which owns a majority stake in Dior. Dior and Bommar Chey are the only assets left. So there's like, what's that? One, two, three, four levels of Russian doll of legal structure here. Right. But he's got majority economics and majority control in Le Bon Mar Chey and Dior by this point. Yes. It's an interesting thing to observe here. It's a sort of a playbook theme that I want to pull early that the efficient market hypothesis is not exactly correct. No, I'm shocked. Shocked to hear you say that. There existed an asset here where it took some work and it took doing some ugly things, but it was incredibly valuable. And there were not other bitters, or at least there were not other bitters that the government was selling to. Yeah. I think there was one other bitter and certainly the political influence and lobbying from both Arno and Lazar really helped him get this. This wasn't just like he walked off the street, but yeah, nobody was clamoring for this asset. Yeah. There were market inefficiencies and then Arno created even more market inefficiencies to make it so that the perfect price discovery of this Busek empire was not found. But he figures out how to do this over and over again, where he finds things that are much more valuable than the price they will end up selling for because of weird idiosyncratic things in that market and the people that own those assets at that particular time. Well, then that sounds like a really good transition. Should we talk about LVMH? Yes. Let's talk about LVMH. But before we do that, it is time to talk about one of our favorite companies, And as you heard on our last episode on the NFL, we are doing something different this season. You probably already know that Pilot is the largest startup focused accounting firm in America with over 1700 clients. They have now scaled with companies that have grown 50x since becoming customers of pilots by using their finance, accounting, bookkeeping, and tax prep products. So we thought, what could we do with Pilot that would be helpful to listeners this season? We are joined by Wasime Daher, the CEO of Pilot for tips that he has for founders after starting three different companies himself. I'm very curious to hear. Wasime, you take your when to ignore your investors? Sure. First of all, if you're investor, maybe just stop the pod right now. Skip ahead about 60 seconds. So here's what I've observed. Everyone has advice for you when you're doing a startup. A lot of it is just plain wrong. And as a consequence, it can actually be really harmful. And nowhere is that more true than when the advice comes from your investors. And it's because they're so influential. And there's a power dynamic. Yeah. Absolutely. There's a power dynamic. And there are many cases when you should listen to them, but there are a few key cases where I think you need to take investor advice with a grain of salt. In particular, what worked for them might not work for you. Anyone's advice, including your investors, is based on their experience. And their experience may or may not be applicable to your business. So you can't necessarily take their guidelines and just blindly apply them. I generally recommend you ignore your investors' opinions on product features or specific marketing messages because you're the closest to what's happening on the ground. To make the point even clearer, the way you're going to get clarity on the questions of what marketing messages are going to resonate or what feature you should build is not by spending time with your investors. It's by field testing it with your actual customers. I love that. Have you found across your three companies that there are categories where investors generally can be like, yeah, they knew more than me on this one? Absolutely. The place where you should always listen to your investors is around best practices. Meaning your investors can be a huge asset in helping you with general, quote-unquote business questions. Things that are important and well understood, but not necessarily intimately linked to your core business. A couple examples here. How much should you compensate your new VP? B. How should you set up the sales team? What should your hiring process look like? What's an appropriate amount of cash burn for a company with revenue of XYZ? I am constantly emailing and texting our investors about these questions. When there are clear best practices or standard answers, you absolutely should listen to your investors because they've seen the movie a million times. There are no bonus points for being creative on this stuff. Focus your attention to energy on the questions and problems that are unique to your business. You might say focus on what makes your beer taste better. Absolutely. Our thanks to Pilot. You can click the link in the show notes or go to slash acquired and get 20% off your finance, accounting, and tax prep needs for your first six months. Woo, thank you, Pilot. All right. Before we get to LVMH, there's two quick things that I think are worth pointing out about the transaction to end up with Dior. Bernard says less than he used to, which I think is kind of a thing that happens to billionaires where they learn that all the stuff that got them here and that they used to be able to say to be controversial really doesn't serve them anymore. Oh, it's so fun. Now he's known as this almost reclusive, wealthiest man in the world. He doesn't do interviews very often. He used to do a lot of interviews. Right. And he would say stuff that were super clarifying and illustrative of how he did all this. And so we're not just speculating that he learned this bag of tricks about leverage by us from America. He actually said in an interview, when you live in a country and do business in it for some time, you try to be influenced by it, especially when you do business in the paradise of business, which is America, which I always love that it's just so like, okay, yep, I definitely learned this in America. The other thing that I think he sort of learned from this first transaction is he really discovers the power of what he calls star brands where if a brand is truly luxury, you are able to generate much higher margins from it, not a little bit, but the whole step change different of margins because you're serving a customer that has very little sensitivity to higher prices, even if manufacturing costs go up a little, the price can go up a lot. And he starts to realize there's a very limited number of brands in the world that are both timeless and growing. And then on top of that have the capability to adapt to modern life without losing the timelessness. And this is sort of where he makes it his mission once he realizes that power of Diora raised like, this is super different than other fashion businesses or any consumer business. This characteristic of luxury and of a truly international star brand, that's so special. I think I need to find more of these. Oh, that's interesting. Maybe we'll talk more about this in analysis, but I do wonder if Eve Sandler all hadn't done that first kind of saving of Dior. And certainly, a transition to it from a tied to a person entity to an enduring brand. This wouldn't have been the case. But also, even though he was only there for three years, that brief glimpse of modernizing fashion and luxury within Diora, if Diora were just the new look, would that have been the case with Diora? Arno wouldn't have had the demonstrated proof point that you can imbue new life into a brand that has durable brand value outside of its current designer. Yep. Okay. Well, let's talk LVMH. Louis Vuitton. Talk about from strength to strength for Young Bernard. So we're now in 1987. And major news in the international business community. There's a huge merger that happens in France, two of the biggest, most important companies in the country merged together to form Moette Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Not Louis Vuitton, Moette Hennessy. I know. Is that funny? It's so funny. Yet, the compromise was the actual name of the company is Moette Hennessy Louis Vuitton. But the symbol that they go by is LVMH. Flipped. And this is the first luxury conglomerate or at least the first significant large one in the world. Yeah, but it was not because that was the goal. This is a marriage of convenience. This is not some grand strategy. The reason it happens is they're trying to prevent takeover attempts from corporate raiders. All these Americans and American style businesses come into raid these old French companies. And as a result, deals like this and this being the biggest of them. They're happening super quickly. If somebody starts buying up shares in one of these companies, which happened with Moette Hennessy and precipitated this, they'll get together with another company. In this case, another family company, Louis Vuitton. The families often don't even like each other that much or even know each other. Right. And it's like, well, all I know is I don't trust the activists who's buying up our shares in the open market. And I don't know if I trust you or not. But at least you're also a family and so you're also a couple hundred year old companies. So the enemy I know a little bit about is better than the enemy I know nothing about. All right. So we ended up in this shotgun wedding defensive move where everyone thought it was their best option to combine these two family companies. Maybe let's go back to the origins of Louis Vuitton and the origins of Moette and Hennessy. How did we get to this position? Yeah. And it's super interesting because both of these companies on their own were on great trajectories. And it was actually bringing them together that killed the family. So let's start with Moette Hennessy. That itself was a merger that had happened in 1971 between Moette and Shandon. And Hennessy and his cognac company Moette and Shandon, the champagne and other beverages producer. The champagne market is very fragmented. The brands are fragmented, but it was already starting to consolidate ownership. And so Moette had been consolidating that this merger though between Moette and Hennessy made a ton of sense and was super successful. It happened in 1971 and it was led from the Moette side by this pioneering guy, Alan Chevalier, and he was the first non-family outside manager of Moette and Shandon. And really like any of these old kind of family brands. Now what we're talking about here is different than the fashion houses. We're now talking about other more durable luxury brands, leather goods, drinks, spirits. There's not the same kind of change and turnover that there is in fashion. And so these brands are truly multi-hundred-year brands. Right. The products don't change. The benefit of drinking Dom Perignon is that you're drinking basically the same thing that the monk originally came up with and they're making the exact same way by hand all these years later. If you look at the Wyman and Spirits division of LVMH, it's the most predictable, durable, not-fashion- and trend-driven part of the business. Back to Chevalier. The other consequence of these brands and businesses not changing that much is the families ran them. Outside professional management wasn't a thing in these companies until Chevalier came into Moette as the first kind of recruited outside manager. And then he engineered the merger with Hennessy and it was brilliant. It makes so much sense. You're both in the Spirits business. This is a regulated industry in most of the world. With very important distribution networks, if you put these two businesses together, you now more than double effectively 2 plus 2 equals 10, your power in the distribution networks around the world. So this was a huge business success. He also had the foresight to really invest in distribution in Asia for these companies. So Hennessy, especially, it's the dominant Konyak brand all around the world, but in Asia into Pan, it is huge. So he grew Chevalier, the combined revenue of the companies from about 300 million to well over a billion in these 10 years. Super, super successful. So that was Chevalier in the Moette side heading into this merger. Over on the Louis Vuitton side, the story is frankly even more impressive. Louis Vuitton at this point in time was headed by the legendary Henri Rack-Mier, who was part of the Vuitton family, but he had married in. He was an entrepreneur and professional manager businessman who had married in and taken over the reins of Louis Vuitton. He was like Louis Vuitton's great grand daughter's husband, something like that. And what he did is, frankly, amazing. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Henri Rack-Mier invented the modern global luxury brand. No, that's exactly right. Louis Vuitton started way back in the 1800s, literally the guy, Louis Vuitton, making trunks for basically royalty, like Napoleon III's wife, the Empress Eugenie, the stuff that he would make, and actually not only make, but also pack because your trunk maker was also your trunk packer because you had for women packing their clothes like corsets and also it's a crazy stuff you had to jam in and not destroy your clothes. I believe the position was called the Royal Latia, I think. It was like a royal appointment. But to your point, it used to literally exclusively be for royals. Who else could just travel around the countryside and have a trunk with her loading up all of their goods? So he went from making them for Napoleon III's wife to Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Finally, this trickles down to not just royalty but aristocrats. Still not like a huge market, though. No, not at all. But there was a technical innovation that enabled what Louis was doing. Did he get this? Let's see. I know a few of them. He got rid of metal hinges and used cloth hinges because they wouldn't stick out. He flattened the tops of the trunks so you could stack them. Do you know why that was super important? Because they were taking trains around presumably and you need to put them in box cars? Yep. This was the 1850s. This was the beginning of train travel. And so Louis invented the flat pack trunk and that was perfect for trains and that was why he became the Royal Latia essentially. Even more interesting, the trunks used to have rounded tops for a reason. And that was because in the rain, in the open air, the water had to run off. You're on the back of a horse-drawn carriage. Exactly. Everyone else also wanted to do flat tops. I'm sure. But he had the innovation of, well, if I take canvas and then I do some sort of waterproofing on top of it, then I actually can make them flat rather than rounded tops. Oh, that's awesome. It's also, oh man, this such irony here. Very much the anti-LVMAs out there and probably the most direct comp and biggest rival to Louis Vuitton is of course Hermes. Yep. What is the logo of Hermes and what are they embrace? Horse and carriage. Horse and carriage. They literally started by making saddles. That's perfect. Yep. Yep. But to finish this trickle down from the Empress Useny to Emperor Heroito to capitalism taking full fold. So now you've got people making good money. You've got Charles Lindbergh, you've got Coco Chanelh with her empire. You've got various Vanderbiltz became Louis Vuitton customers. Yep. That was big. The Vanderbiltz were really in the Louis, right? Yeah. You sort of have luxury expanding from this tiny little niche of literally making stuff for kings and queens to now they at least make stuff for rich people because there's an expanding class of a new set of royals in the world and their royals of money. So there's this great line Dana Thomas has in her book Deluxe How a Luxury Lost Its Luster, which I'm going to quote a few times here because she just has some great perspective on this. Here's her description of this. Let's pursue the analogy. Since the dawn of humanity right up to the turn of the 19th century, the world of luxury has been virtually totally isolated from the rest of the economy. Its pleasures and delights reserved for a very small elite. Practically the entire population were living in a subsistence economy firmly rooted in their rural environment were living a life of misery and towns and cities without any access to culture. And I think that's the best framing for a luxury of anything I found, which is you really can't think of it as stuff that's expensive. It was like there's actually a different segment of society that is completely walled off from 99.99% of people in the world. And these were the goods personally made for them until global wealth started to become a thing. Yes. And this is what Rackemier recognized and was so genius that nobody else did this mega mega mega global trend of there are now enough people in the world that can afford this luxury. A lot of people can afford this luxury. It's not just this very small group anymore. Oh yeah. So interestingly, if you flash forward through the rich history of Louis Vuitton passing down the brand to his son and his son, by the time you get to the 1970s, Louis Vuitton is kind of floundering. I think they still only had two stores. This is what 100 years or more since their founding over 100 years. Yep. Paris and Nisse, just two stores. They did a grand total of $12 million in sales in 1977, which 12 million sounds like a lot. But when we tell you the numbers of what they're doing today, just 30, 40 years later, it's going to blow your mind. And so Rackemier is really the genius behind turning Louis Vuitton from a two store 12 million dollar business to what seven years later in 1984. He 15 x revenue to 143 million had taken the company public. And by the time his reign was over in 1990, he had grown from two stores to 125. Yep. I believe at that point in time, it had passed a billion dollars in revenue right around there. Yep. Yeah. For 125 year old company doing 12 million in revenue, this guy takes over turns it into a billion dollar business in essentially a decade. And he and our know get into a huge fight and our know kicks him out of the company. Yeah. And he really did two things to grow from two stores to 125 and massively go all that revenue and IPO it. The first was internationalization. He was the first person to open stores in Japan, which would really offer this glimpse at luxuries global future. We'll put a pin in that for now, because I think we'll talk about it a lot later. But the other big one is vertical integration. Rackemier realized that the retailers and not the producers of the goods were making the biggest profits, which made sense since most of the producers were really small operations, family-owned that didn't have the muscle operationally to be able to get to no customers. Well, especially in other countries, they would really only know the customers in the small towns where they had their tiny factories. Yeah. Products like Louis Vuitton were getting sold in department stores. Totally. And so his big insight was we really should own and operate retail stores and invest in getting to no customers for the first time and building that direct relationship. So he sort of did vertical integration from the product forward. He still didn't vertically integrate the back of the house, but he figured out that we shouldn't be outsourcing our distribution to department stores. Let's talk about what the Louis Vuitton business is. This isn't Dior. This isn't drinks. This is $10,000,000 pieces of luggage in the 1980s. The margins on these things are insane. Yes, absolutely. So his competitors were all around sort of 15 to 25% operating margins with this strategy of just going direct to the customers. He was sort of the original D to see he was earning 40% profit margins dramatically better than the other trunk and suitcase makers. Louis Vuitton Hermes. These may be better businesses than software. They are so good. Right. That's the craziest insight from this whole thing. RackaMia really discovers what would become the key insight of LVMH today, which is if we do our jobs right, we can soak up all the profit from the whole value chain, from designer to manufacturer to distribution to marketing. Like there's all these players that it used to be outsource to. RackaMia really starts the ball rolling down the hill of we can be the people that own all the profit pools for the industry. Yep. That's on the profit side of the equation. But he also is the first person to realize the global market for consumers for this is way bigger than anybody realizes. He has this great quote that you may have read too. He says we understood that the world of luxury products had changed. The clientele that could buy luxury products grew immensely in the 1960s and 1970s and we saw this sleeping potential, which obviously that's translated from French and is like a very French thing to say, but it was an incredible insight. Yep. All right. So back to this ill-fated marriage here. When they come together though, unfortunately for RackaMia, the compounding journey that he said in motion at Louis Vuitton wasn't far enough along yet and what had to see with still the bigger company. And they were both publicly traded, right, which is why they were worried about the activist investors. Yeah. The families had IPO'd minority stakes in these companies to monetize their ownership. Yeah. And so I mentioned in 1984 when RackaMia, IPO'd Louis Vuitton, they were doing a hundred and four a three million that had grown to close to a billion by 1987 when the merger talks started. And yeah, to your point, they were catching up, but Moai had to say it was still the bigger business. Yes. So when the merger happens and this new LVMH Uber corporate entity is created, it's Chevrolet who takes the chairman position there and RackaMia is the number two. So he's still running the Louis Vuitton business, Chevrolet is running the Moai had as he business. There was never any plans to integrate these assets. The operating companies were going to stay the same. And indeed, the entities themselves are still separate. There's just a new parent holding company designed to prevent external corporate takeovers. All the families combined owned over 50% of that company and the voting rights and they can prevent corporate takeovers. Which is funny because even though both of them detected that there might be activist investors, there's a bunch of their shares being bought up. It's kind of red herring because in combiting, they actually assured their own destruction versus if they had stayed separate. We don't know the counterfactual, but they might have been fine. Yeah, right. They might have been. And they certainly would have been if they hadn't IPO'd the minority stakes for the families to monetize. So there's a lesson there. But pretty much right away. I mean, you can see they're riding up in the wall here. These are two French dudes with some pretty big egos. The trouble starts. So, Reckham, yay. This is so petty, but it's what actually happens. He has some stationary printed for the new LVMH company in which his name appears above Chevalier's on the stationary. Chevalier rounds up all the stationary and has it destroyed. I feel like we're talking about like, you know, the American Revolution or something here. This is ridiculous. They start fighting in the press. Like they just merge these companies and Rackhamier gets quoted. Champagne can be found on the shelves of every corner supermarket. I mean, I literally bought mine at Whole Foods last night. But our leather goods require exclusive distribution. Now, he's totally right. But you can imagine how that lands with Chevalier. It's not good. And then early the next year in 1988, there's another potential crisis out there. For some reason, the trading volume in LVMH stock starts rising sharply again, which is a sign that maybe there's a takeover waiting in the wings. Now, the family's control 51% of the company, the combined families at this point. But they're, remember, they're these families. They don't really like each other. There's so many family members. If one group of families gets persuaded by a takeover attempt to join forces with an external party, LVMH could be back in play. This is not good. As long as their arms are linked, they'll be fine. Just trust the process. This structure can bear the load that is coming into it. But nobody really thinks that the structure is going to stay together, even internally within LVMH. So Chevalier and the Moette side, he's good buds with the CEO of Guinness over in the UK. Huge, also drinks company, a guy named Anthony Tenant. He comes to recommend. He says, look, we've got this problem. What if we bring in Guinness to buy a small stake in the company? I'm thinking three and a half percent. That should be enough just to give us a little margin of safety here, shore things up against whatever is going on in the markets. But now three people left to link arms. Yeah, right now three people left to link arms. But Guinness is at this point, professionally managed, not a family owned company. They're very large. Reckhame is like three and a half percent. Sure. Whatever. What he doesn't know, though, is that Chevalier is also working on a big distribution partnership with Guinness, just like what led to the original success of combining Moette and Hennessy was merging the distribution networks. As part of these discussions, as they go on, Guinness decides it wants to own more of LVMH than just three and a half percent. What about a lot of margin of safety? What about a lot? Safety, maybe safety depends on your perspective. So Chevalier comes back to Reckhame, pretty shortly thereafter and says, hey, you know how I said three and a half percent? Well, I've been talking with Anthony. We're now thinking like 20 percent. What do you think about that? And Reckhame goes ballistic from his point of view. And I totally think this is valid. He's like, this is a declaration of war. You're trying to shift the whole balance of this group to the drinks side and away from my leather goods business. My leather goods business is the jewel here. You're trying to steamroll us and this is the future. I've got the winning strategy. So he goes out and starts looking for his own ally to bring in the kind of counterbalance Guinness on the drinks side. And he's looking around. He's like, ah, he lands on the perfect person. Somebody who really gets luxury, luxury brands, he can explain the leather goods business to him why it's so powerful. Maybe someone from the fashion world furthest from possible from drinks. And this guy that he finds is perfect. He's young. He's ambitious. Both he and Chevalier are older at this point. He could someday beat their protege and take over running the company and he would understand the Louis Vuitton business. The perfect candidate, the head of Christian Dior, the young Bernard Arno. Well, that was kind of a mistake on the racquet mues part. Let's just set this fox loose in our nice little henhouse here. The Helen house is already a little bit in duress, but maybe the fox can somehow make it better. Really racquet mues should have known better here because he approaches our know and he suggests to him, hey, how about we work together here? I'm looking for somebody to come in on my side. I think you should make a bid for 25% of LVMH's stock. Remember, Guinness only wants 20% at this point. And the Vuitton family will support you and together, we're now going to have majority control over this company and we're going to run it together and kind of marginalize the drinks side of the business. And where does racquet mues expect Bernard to come up with the cash to make that bid? So this is critical. Bernard, I don't know if he had his eyes on LVMH. I mean, LVMH had only just been formed a few months before, but he certainly wanted to grow. And he had already in his mind this idea of his unique strategy of, hey, there's actually economies of scale and bringing multiple brands together. And I think I want to do this within my group. And Deore can be the colonel that is going to grow into something bigger. So he had started, remember we talked about because of the legacy of Boussac and how Arno came into the business, there's this Russian doll legal structure of multiple entities before you get to the actual operating businesses of Deore. What Arno and Lazard start doing, they realize they can IPO minority stakes in each of these levels of business and raise capital by doing that while still being very careful about making sure they maintain ironclad voting and economic control over each of them. You've got the operating businesses of Deore and Lebon-Marshay department store. And then above that, you've got a gosh, that former Boussac holding company, then you've got Bernard's personal entity, Group A Arno, where he could sell some shares of that on a public exchange, which by the way, this is still publicly listed today. You can buy this instead of LVMage. So yeah, you totally can free up cash by just selling off minority pieces of each Russian doll. And this generates huge leverage for Bernard. He gets access to all of this capital, but because his successive chain of entities have majority control every step in the chain, he owns and runs these things while getting access to capital at every single level. It's amazing. Again, back to your story of how he turns $50 million into this incredible $200 billion plus fortune. This is a key step of it. And the reason that this is not Enron is because there's both financial engineering and a crap ton of value creative businesses that are spitting off cash. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being generated in profits by the underlying entities. So you can do this financial engineering and still be able to justify all of it. Why people should pay you for pieces of your shell corporation because the underlying businesses are sound. So Bernard's been doing this, building up this war chest. He actually does have the firepower to do what Racka Mye's suggesting here. Now, when Racka Mye approaches him, of course, he's thrilled. He's like, yes, this is my chance. And what does he do? Naturally, he goes straight away to his friend and mentor and banker Antoine Bernheim over at Lazard Faire to talk about it. Well, that was really the obvious thing that Racka Mye should have thought about before he approached Bernhard because guess who the investment bank for the Moette Hennessy side of the business was. Oh, Lazard was working with Moette Hennessy. Lazard. Yep. So in the merger, Lazard had always been the bankers of Moette Hennessy and during the LVMH merger, Lazard was on Moette's side. So as soon as I know, who again, he's super, super loyal to Lazard as well. As soon as he goes to Lazard, Lazard is like, well, you might want to think about your alliances here. You should buy this company, but maybe you should ally with the person I'm allied with. Yes. Now, this is very, very self-interested on Lazard's part. But it's actually also, I think, pretty good advice because Guinness is a much larger company and has much bigger financial resources. So Lazard is like, look, if you're going to be fighting Guinness, you guys are going to lose. This is not going to work. So clearly what's happening here is Bernhard switching sides from the LVMH side. Why does it matter who he's allied with? At the end of the day, he's just buying shares in the same company. Well, we're about to see just that. So Lazard sets up a secret late-night meeting at their office between the three parties. So everyone's in the room except for Louis Vuitton. Except for Louis Vuitton. And Arno and Anthony Tenon, at Guinness, really hit it off. Now, remember Guinness, much larger company, much bigger financial resources. So out of that, Arno ends up really allying with Guinness. And very shortly thereafter in July of 1988, they announced that they're creating a new JV together between Bernhard Arno and Guinness. It's a 60-40 JV controlled 60% by Arno. They call it Jacques Robère, this new entity. And that entity is going to be financed with $1.5 billion that is going to buy 24% of LVMH. So, Enter Bernhard Arno's majority ownership of an entity that owns a minority stake of LVMH. The market cap around this time of LVMH is around $6 billion. So that's 60% of 24% of something that's worth $6 billion, which is about $860 million is the value of his new stake in LVMH. So, yeah, he said that $800 million is the capital that he had come up with through this war chest that he was doing. But the strategy that Arno and Lazard design here is so brilliant because he retains majority control in each of these entities. So it doesn't matter that he only owns 60% of this new Jacques Robère, JV, and Guinness owns 40%. Arno controls it. Once it's in, once the capital's in, Guinness's capital is now just leverage for Arno. Sure. So it's leverage on a 24% stake of LVMH. Why does that matter? Why is that? Spell doom and gloom for Arcomy. Well, this is freaking terrible for Arcomy. Remember, he was terrified at Guinness owning a 20% stake. He thought he had gone and found his ally to bolster his side of the business versus Chevrolet and Guinness owning a 20% stake. Now his ally has defected and a 24% stake has showed up seemingly on the other side of the company here. So he literally feels like he just got stabbed in the back by this young guy that he was going to make his protege and probably his successor. He's not to some dumb family member here. Not to say that family members are dumb, but he's a legend. Yeah, he's the most enterprising French businessman. So Rackem, yeah, he's like, what are you guys doing to me? I built this thing, I built the jewel here, and you all are stabbing me in the back like Caesar. He can't believe it. And Rackem is the one who created this modern global luxury strategy of owning your distribution and creating prestige in all these global markets. Totally. So what does he do? The sad thing is he's basically out of options, but he starts casting about trying to do anything. He goes into the market personally with his money that he had made from his previous ventures and from the Louis Vuitton family money starts buying up as much LVMH stock as he can. And his goal is to try and somehow amass a 33% stake in the company because by I think French corporate law, if you have at least a 33% stake in the company, it's a blocking minority. Yep, a blocking minority. You can block any decisions at the board level. So literally at this point, he's like, F you to everybody else. She's heavily, of course, he hated him already. Guinness, Arno, I'm going to war against you in the market in our own company's stock. So once this starts happening, Arno, he just has no love lost for a CMEA. He and Guinness go back into the market themselves with Jacobert with the JV. And this is why Guinness is so important. They have way more financial firepower than Rackemier can put together on his own. So within three trading days, Jacobert, the entity, the JV, deploys another $600 million into the market to raise their economic holding in LVMH to 37.5%. But because of the voting structure, they don't yet have the blocking minority 33% voting structure. So weird that you can publicly trade both voting and non-voting shares or at least shares with one vote versus shares with multiple votes. That's totally what's happening. So Bernard now is literally on the precipice of taking over LVMH, which is not what anybody was intending here. No, I mean, he was brought in as a bolstering partner for either side, whichever one he sort of picked, but certainly not to be the one, the wolf, as he is known as the wolf and Cajemier, to come in and sort of take over everything. Yep. So now, finally, this is what brings Chivalier and Rackemier together. They hated each other before, but they're like, oh, shit, what have we done? We are both about to lose our companies to this young guy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Exactly. So they come together and in December 1988, they initiate a very much like last ditch effort to try and save their companies, which this is crazy. So in December 1988, remember the merger that created LVMH happened only like 18 months before. The two of them announced without telling our know, and I think without telling Gennace either that they're going to break up LVMH. They are going to separate the two companies. They're going to essentially annul the marriage. It was doomed from the beginning. They're going to go back to being separate, publicly traded companies. So literally they are doing the corporate radar playbook of breaking up the companies to try and save their companies to save, quote unquote, to try and save their control of their companies. Yeah, to save their control. Because of course, Barnard would make them far more successful than they ever imagined. And this is what are we on now? The third or fourth miscalculation that they make about Barnard Arno. Yep. They think obviously they can't do this now without his approval or else he's going to sue them to high heaven. They think that they can appease him and get him to go along with this because they think they know what he actually wants this whole time. They can't even fathom that he wants to run LVMH. They think he wants the Dior perfume business back to reunite it again with Dior. He's remembered Moette had bought the Dior perfume business in 1968. And I think he'd been saying this. I think this is sort of his lip service of like, well, it makes sense for me to be involved with this transaction because Dior is missing one final piece of the puzzle and you guys own it. And also this would make him very wealthy because this whole time the way that you go buy up stock in the market is you bid it up. So all this ownership that he had of LVMH that he'd been sort of buying with Guinness has gone up and up and up in value. So they're like, look, he's going to get even richer and he's going to get the perfume brand back to reunite it. Seems like this is what he would want. Yep. So Reckhamier and Chevalier newly reunited in their desire to break up the company offer Arno a parting gift of gifting him essentially back Dior perfumes so he can reunite his business and then go on on his way. And this is where Bernard reveals his true intentions, which is he's coming at the king not because he wants to steal his septer or something like that. He wants to be the king. He wants LVMH. So he gets this offer from the two of them and he's like, yeah, I'll get back to you on that. The next two days in the markets, he goes out and he blows essentially all of his capital, deploys another $500 million in the next two days in the markets, bringing it to over a billion dollars within a very short period of time in additional capital that he's put up. So he's now what two billion of his own capital, I think, into this. And he's, I believe sold some of the Dior and the former Busek entities getting closer and closer to not being the controlling shareholder anymore. So he's basically mortgaging that business in order to free up the capital to go and make a big play to win LVMH. He's pushing the chips in. He's going all in. And with that purchase, he takes the Jacarobare holdings to 43.5% economically and 35% of the voting rights, which means he gets the blocking minority. And it's done. He has now in the span of a couple months come in from zero outsider and taken over the largest luxury conglomerate in the world. Yep. Large for the time, certainly not large for now. LVMH now is 75 houses and LVMH then was three or four or five houses, something pretty small and obviously way smaller in revenue. I mean, the concept of a luxury conglomerate was a new thing in the late 80s. Totally. And achieving it was Bernard's explicit goal and strategy in a way that for Reckham, Ye and Chevalier, it was just a marriage of convenience. Yeah, this is where I think they misunderstood what Bernard wanted and what his core motivations were. It wasn't to become wealthier. It wasn't to polish this one little fine piece that he had. He wanted to build an empire, control that empire and change the face of this entire industry by executing his strategy within that empire. That was none of their motivations. And so I don't think they could have seen how grand his were. Yep. So once this happens and Bernard gets the blocking minority, Chevalier resigns immediately and just kind of rides off into the sunset. Reckham, yeah, he's so pissed. He keeps fighting. He sews Bernard. He sews everybody. The cases drag out in court for a couple of years. It gets super ugly in the press. Finally, when it becomes clear that he's not going to win his court cases in April of 1990, he privately resigns and he walks off the job without telling Bernard or anybody else at LVMH. So that day, Bernard calls Louis Vuitton and the receptionist answers the phone and says, I'm sorry. Mr. Reckham, Ye is no longer on the premises. And I think they've never talked again. Wow. But to your point, they're what they didn't understand. And you know, if they had, maybe they would have acted differently toward him. Bernard is not a corporate raider. He has a big vision here. There's some great quotes from him from this time from all these interviews he was doing. He says, I told my team at the time that we will build the first luxury group like you're saying, Ben, in the world. Obviously, it was very ambitious, but it galvanized the team and we started to build. Some people say I'm a wolf. That is not at all true. Wolves break up companies into pieces. It was Rackham Ye who wanted to cut the company into pieces. I was the only one who did not want to dismantle it, which is sort of double speak. If you choose your own definition of what a wolf is, then it is easy to not appear as one. Was he a corporate raider? I don't know. He used corporate raider like tactics to acquire control. He didn't follow every single corporate raider playbook strategy. It took cut it all up afterwards, but does it make you not a corporate raider if you maintain control afterwards? I don't know. Maybe that's fair. It's nuanced. I do think it is a misunderstanding of him to call him a corporate raider. I mean, when I tweeted the other day that he was a corporate raider and you texted him, you're like, oh, come on. He's more than that. You're right. He uses those tactics to acquire control. You were being intentionally provocative. Yeah. I think the most important strategic takeaway, though, from this episode and all this drama is something that Bernard says at the time about Chevalier. He's much more conciliatory towards Chevalier than Rackham Ye because they didn't have the huge fight in the same way. He says, Mr. Chevalier was an excellent manager and I agree with his strategies. His problem is that he was not the majority shareholder in his company. In the businesses I manage, I'm the principal shareholder and that helps me control the situation. For what he's trying to achieve to build this first global luxury conglomerate, especially in the era of corporate rating, it's only going to work if he has ironclad majority control over everything. So I think this is sort of worth identifying why Louis Vuitton was such a crown jewel of this empire. We talked about the fact that it was growing much faster than the spirit's division, but why other than some brilliant business decisions to own more of the margin by controlling distribution and opening up internationally. Why is this such a magical product? Well, Louis Vuitton's business evolved from trunks into handbags and handbags became a culturally important item as women's fashion lost a lot of other elements. The book deluxe really goes into this that you lose the hat, the gloves, sometimes shoes become less important. The handbag moves up from this tiny little handbag that used to sit on the wrist to a bigger handbag that goes around the shoulder as women were doing more with their hands. There's sort of this concurrent liberation of women's movement and the handbag is sort of the one remaining accessory that you can put all your stuff in and be out on the go. And by this point in history, women had stuff, even wealthy women. It's not like they were always walking around with servants in the early days of the Louis Vuitton trunks. You're just going out about your day and you don't have anyone else with you. You're liberated and you're doing it on your own. So the handbag is this kind of magical symbol of the evolution of women's role in society to this point. There's also some great synergies here for a luxury group in that what is the stuff that women have at this point? Make up sunglasses perfume. Well, a lot of the stuff is luxury items that go into the bag that LVMH is also now selling. 100%. And so on top of all this, handbags are an unbelievable business. And this is out of the books deluxe. One, they're easy to sell. They don't require sizing or trying on or hemming or modifying anyway. You look at it and if you like it, you buy it. It's done. You also can justify sending a lot of money on it because they go with everything. Not all purses go with everything, but you buy one really nice leather handbag. It's going to go with a lot of outfits so you can justify a pretty high spend on it because you're you know, cost per hour for anyone who actually thinks about it that way is actually pretty low. It's not like a dress that you'll wear once, frankly. Right. They're easier to create and produce when you compare it to something like perfumes. The profit margins, as you mentioned, are astounding for most luxury brands. The profit is 10 to 12 times the cost to make them. And at Louis Vuitton, it is 13x, the cost of goods sold. Pretty amazing. Unlike the jewelry business, which is also can be a great business and LVMH has gotten into, these things are leather. There are a lot of cows out there. People eat a lot of beef. Right. It's a renewable resource. Yeah. Unlike the diamonds, which the earth has only made a certain amount of and the earth doesn't move super fast to make more diamonds, the earth moves quite fast to make more leather. So the interesting thing about the you can justify the high price point, the opposite is also true, where because there are things that you use so often, you can justify buying more of them. And so coached commission this research in 2000, I believe, that the average American woman who purchased a handbag purchased two new handbags per year. And by 2004, that number was four new handbags per year. So it is a expensive recurring purchase that requires really low overhead to sell. It's wild. And the margin structure is amazing. And one final fact on handbags at Louis Vuitton's immense four-floor global store in Tokyo, 40% of all sales are made in the first room, which sells only monogrammed handbags, wads, and other small leather goods. So it very quickly became the product of Louis Vuitton. But Louis Vuitton is a quarter of the entire empire even today with the 75 other brands. So the whole thing sort of revolves around this nice, extremely branded leather handbag. And one more telling point to really illustrate this way back at the beginning of the whole empire, there's your, it's a fashion house. It's about showing off the newest seasons clothing. It's couture, you know, they're walking down the runway. It's custom made. And these shows that people would go to were originally to show off what customers could buy. And customers would take notice of it. And financiers would be there to get the demand signal from the customers to be able to fund the manufacturers to spin them up. And today, they don't really create this clothing for many people or anyone to order. They do it to show off a branding event. So come to the Louis Vuitton show and you'll be immersed in a Louis Vuitton experience. And we don't really expect you to buy any of the things on the models except all the models are carrying our accessories. So no matter what crazy cool clothes they're wearing or person is singing or crazy light show is happening. I will tell you if you've not watched a fashion show in a long time, go to Louis Vuitton's website and just watch a video of what a show is today. It is a super high production crazy event. It's like Monday night football. Yep. But at the end of the day, what they cause consumers to do, love the brand more and buy more handbags. Yes, yes, obviously Louis Vuitton is the star then and now within LVMH. And Bernard totally realizes that and leans into it. But there is also this element of building a global luxury group that really is his unique counterintuitive insight that you can achieve very powerful scale economies in the luxury industry. And you just can't do it in the way you do it in other industries. The reason it's counterintuitive either you think about like proctor and gamble or somebody like that in other consumer goods. They have scale economies because they outsource production, they get it cheaper, you know, and then they make more tied than anyone else. In luxury, that would defeat the whole thing. Right. There's natural disacconnories of scale where the more of something you make, the less valuable the luxury consumer will think it is. We saw this with Dior in the 50s and 60s when the licenses diluted the brand. So even innovators like Rack M. Yeh, they never would have imagined that scale economies could exist in luxury. Like you would never outsource production in luxury. Nobody realized that these things could be large scale businesses period. They were all these small family owned niche businesses serving a small group of customers. So it was almost total logical that they were small businesses. Right. Here's what Bernard realized though. Yes, those dynamics are true for any given brand. But if you have a whole portfolio of brands, both the raw inputs, materials and talent and people and craftsmen that go into making these things, that you can scale across the portfolio brands and even more importantly, the distribution that comes out of it, the retail shops, the real estate, the experiences, the customer relationships, that you can also scale across brands. And so his vision is like, whoa, if we can put together a whole bunch of brands in one group, then we can centralize distribution. We can centralize our relationships with retailers and we can really squeeze them and have a lot of power over them. We'll get into that in a minute. We can own our own real estate. Bulk by advertising. Bulk by advertising. The economies of scale in advertising, you bet are immense for these things. Yeah. This decision of where synergies could be realized in a luxury group and where to stay away from synergies is probably the biggest value unlock that Bernard has figured out on how this conglomerate needs to work. Because his son, Alexander, describes it as light synergies. You only have synergy around negotiating advertising deals, negotiating real estate and distribution deals and giving people the ability to make career moves within your company where they jump from brand to brand. But you do not have any synergies and you be very careful not to mess this up with the creatives. The person who owns design for a given fashion house owns design period. There is no management meddling and no trying to say, well, the designers for this shop also work for these three other shops. None of that. That has to stay walled off. There's this really important point here that you're bringing up with the people. So Bernard will say to this day that the greatest advantage that LVMH has is its people and its talent. And I heard him say this a bunch of times in research and I was like, okay, that's Bernard being public figure now. And like everybody says that in blah, blah, blah. But he's actually right. It's really important, especially here in luxury. What they realize by building this group is that they can get economies of scale on attracting the top both creative talent and business management talent within the luxury industry. And the economies of scale are that one, it's like a money thing because they're so much bigger as a group they can pay more than anybody else. But two, it's a career thing for these people that go work there. If you come and you work within the LVMH family, they're always talking about it as a family. Even the kids talk about it as a family. And they say like, I don't mean family like us. We mean this whole corporation is a family. They're constantly rotating people around both on the business and creative side, learning from and working in and getting opportunities to work across all these brands and all these different verticals. That's a much more compelling pitch for somebody than like go work in this family controlled single brand business. Most companies, the only way to advance is your boss retiring. I mean, we're all very fortunate to have worked in, especially in the tech industry or the finance industry and businesses where there's sort of lateral moves to be made all over the place, we're switching divisions. That's a fairly modern concept. And that's what Bernard applied here where you can sort of move up by changing houses without your boss retiring. And even look at the kids, they are no children now like they've all done this. They've all gone around through so many different brands and roles within the group and they're learning the business. And they're not the only ones. They're outside executives that are doing the same thing too. Yep. We should give credit to our know also for pushing the vertical integration much further than Henri Racomier did. So Racomier figured out the vertical integration with distribution to stores, but Bernard gets credit for vertically integrating the upstream side of the business. I think he really gets where the power of a luxury brand stems from in sort of the design and manufacturing, having a sense of place, an origin and story. And so Louis Vuitton had started doing a little bit down the path of what Dior did in diluting its brand. They had outsourced 70% of their production. So while they didn't do the licensing that Dior did, they were having it manufactured in a bunch of different countries with varying levels of quality. Yeah. And if you're trying to sell $20,000 handbags, that didn't go work. Right. So after he realized control, he bought that all back in house and tripled the number of Louis Vuitton owned factories from five to 14 over the next decade. And he has this wonderful quote that describes both sides of the house really well, which is if you control your factories, you control your quality. If you control your distribution, you control your image. Okay. Let's double click on that too. Because you're so right. Racomier had innovated and started this controlling your distribution. But it stopped at we're going to do our own retail outlets. What Arno and LVMH does and this really just hollows out the global retailing industry and especially department stores. I believe they learned this from Japan where this was an accepted model in the Japanese department stores. They realize now that they have so much scale by having all these brands. And by the way, we should say over the next 10 years, LVMH under Bernard goes out and they acquire Celine, they acquire<|tr|><|translate|><|tr|><|translate|><|tr|><|translate|> They acquire Balooody, they acquire Kenzo, they acquire Keriland, they acquire Louis Vu, they acquire Marc Jacobs, they're getting all these brands. Fendi and Bulgaria are big ones. Yep, totally. They acquire watch brands, they acquire luggage brands, etc. Tag a hoyer. Yep. At a certain point, they're like 50, 60, 70% of the products that are going into department stores, they're going to be able to buy a lot of their products. They're going to be able to buy a lot of their products, they're going to buy a lot of their products, go in and just have a fixed cost with them rather than a revshare with them. I think it was more around we want to start controlling the customer experience and almost an admission that the department stores had sort of figured out how to be the best at that. And that was a thing that if Bernard wanted to really create multi-generational brands in this multi-generational holding company, they would have to have the direct relationship with the customers too. Well and it all works into the strategy. If you think about what you're doing when you're selling luxury, you are selling the experience. You're not selling a piece of leather. You're selling a dream. The idea that you would outsource the selling process of that to somebody else is kind of like anathema to what it is you're doing. Right. That's the exact point. The the dream, the experience. Yeah. Two quick other things while we're in the mid 90s, one on this new least retail business model. Part of the reason I think this hadn't been done before, even though it's obvious, was it requires a lot of capital scale. You're gonna go to all of the Nordstroms in America and you're gonna be like, I'm gonna lease space in all of your locations. So if you're an individual brand, you don't have the scale to do that. But now LVMH, they have the scale and the scale advantages to be able to do this. That's one. The other thing on the retail side, they also during the 90s go out and acquire some retailers. They acquire Sephora, they acquire duty free shoppers. These are incredibly strategic things that they're doing. They don't wanna really get into the retail business, but this is all part of the same strategy. So much of what's going into those retailers are their products in their key geographies. Now they can fully own the whole chain, the duty free shoppers, stories where it's just a real quick sidebar. For folks who don't know, this company was started by Chuck Feeney, who probably is like one of the most interesting and amazing humans that have ever lived. He took the capital that he made from that, started General Atlantic, the private equity firm. The whole goal of which was to increase that capital to then give it away through Atlantic Philanthropies. He's still alive, but he gave away all of the money in his lifetime. It's an unreal story. Yeah, it's also so funny that the whole thing is, they're exploiting this weird tax loophole, and that was enough to build this huge business around, to the point where like whenever you travel internationally right now, the concourse is a duty free shop. You have to walk past all of this. And so it's such an odd experience where like whenever you're traveling internationally, you have to walk by perfume and handbags. Oh, okay, but that's becoming an enormous part of the business. And now owned in house by LVMH, the duty free shoppers story and the Chuck Feeney story. So cool, he did it all anonymously until very recently. One last fun little thing on this that we gotta say, do you know who designed the duty free shoppers logo? No. This is like even better than the NRUN story. No, I don't. Andy Warhol designed the duty free shoppers logo. That's crazy. Isn't that crazy? I didn't know he ever did any logos. Right? Literally Andy Warhol designed it. That's wild. Amazing company. You know, we've been throwing around this word luxury, but we haven't really defined it. And I think before we sort of move into the 2000s, it's probably worth reflecting on what luxury goods are because there's a lot of different definitions of it. And I think depending which one you choose to use, it changes whether you think about all of these different brands as luxury brands anymore or not. Yep. So in another great book that we read to prepare for this called the luxury strategy, there's this great quote, which is, premium means pay more, get more, in functional benefits. Luxury is elsewhere. It signals the capacity of the buyer to transcend needs, functions or objective benefits. This is how luxury brands are different from premium or super premium brands. Beyond the experience they bring, creative power, heritage and social distinction. I think this is a really good place to start because this is probably the most classic definition of luxury where there are premium goods, which means you pay more and you get more utility, like objective value. And it's not necessarily a linear curve, like Apple iPhones are the best at this. I pay an absurd amount more to get a pro with slightly more storage and I get some utility that's a little bit better. Yep. But it is a premium product. Right. It's premium. It's not luxury by this definition. Yep. Exactly. This nuance is so illuminating to be able to understand this. You start seeing it everywhere once you think about things this way. Right. Premium is pay for value. It might be paying a lot for value, but you're paying for value. Luxury is literally paying because something offers no more value and other people will know that. So they know that one, you have the wealth to spend on things, even though they are no more utilitarian to you and two, that you have taste. And you have chosen this item as the item that you want to throw your wealth at because it says something about you, not what you need it to do productively. And those two things, I think get to still down into this concept of the dream that you're buying. And this is all a little abstract, but you can make this so concrete by using actual examples. The car industry, this is the most clear cut. BMW and Lexus are premium brands. Yes. Ferrari is a luxury brand. When you think about that, you're like, oh, I totally get it. There are many things about Ferrari's that are worse than even like my Mazda CX5. Way, way worse, far less practical, far less utility, but it says something about what I have chosen to do with my money, how much money I have, and the level of taste that I have. Totally. And if you wanted to upgrade the product that you have, you could buy a Lexus SUV. And that would be a premium SUV and you would pay more for it and it would be better than your Mazda. Right. But you buy a Ferrari, you're gonna pay 20 times, 30 times what you paid for that Mazda, and it's gonna be worse. Right. And the handbags are such a good example too, because what do you need a handbag to do? You need it to like zip and unzip. You need all the functions of it to work. You need to put your stuff in it and you need it to not look too bad. And when you go to Target and you buy something that's $35 or when you buy something from Louis Vuitton for $20,000, it's actually quite difficult to find a $20,000 Louis Vuitton bag, but maybe a Hermes Birken bag or something. The function is actually identical. So all the value above the cost of the materials, at least sort of qualify for luxury. Coco Chanel puts this really well too, which is luxury is a necessity that begins where necessity ends. Ooh, I love that. I always like that. I hadn't heard that quote before, that's great. Mark Jacobs has a different quote on it, which is luxury is about pleasing yourself, not dressing for other people. This gets to the idea of luxury to fulfill your own goal intrinsically instead of, social signaling, it's a you feel a certain way about yourself. I buy that, but I buy it less. I literally think the purpose of luxury is signaling and social stratification, which has always been a need of humanity. I think the most compelling argument around why luxury needs to exist is, it is a deeply human thing to signal your standing in the world. And everybody's signal is it in different ways. And now this is one of the infinite ways that someone could choose to signal to the world. This is not only what I choose to identify with taste wise, but if you know you know, especially with something like the Hermes-Burkin bag where like it's not marked, you'll notice Louis Vuitton has LV's everywhere, but there are other brands that choose not to brand something so that only people in the tribe can understand why it's so valuable and luxurious. I don't know, I totally buy the argument that it's an essential part of humanity. And I think especially if you think about luxury and fashion as being two different dimensions, we talked about this a little earlier in the episode. There is luxury fashion for sure. Dior is a great example of that. Chanel is a great example of that, but that's only a small part of what luxury is and is kind of harder to understand and frankly harder to monetize versus durable leather goods or cars. Those are very clear cut examples. You can really understand intuitively, at least for me, rock better, the difference between a luxury product and a premium product. And then there's also the durability of it, like a key aspect I think of luxury products is that their value and status is durable over time, where so much of fashion is the opposite of that. If you buy a Ferrari, for example, there's a very good chance that that Ferrari is gonna be worth more in the future than it is the day you buy it. And not for its utility. Right. It's because other people have bought into the dream that this is a valuable thing. Totally. If you buy a Birken bag, there's a very good chance that that is gonna be a good investment. Whereas if you buy a purse from Target, that is gonna depreciate 90% that minute you walk out of the store. And it's so interesting because it is both about the durability of the materials, like that's a story that is sort of often sold to justify the price of luxury goods. But actually, that makes it a premium product. That is about the utility. That's about justifying why it's actually a good value to be paying more. What the durability really refers to is the durability of its status, that it's Lindy. It has been worth something for a long time, so it will be worth something for a long time. And I think that that is the most important thing for luxury brands, which is why when you look at all this stuff that Bernard Arno has gone out and bought, they're from anywhere from the 1300s to the 1800s, with some stuff recently, but it's all about selling that this stuff, this brand, this way you're choosing to identify yourself, is part of something much bigger and longer than you, and will stay valuable for a long time in the future. Yep, totally. So here's the interesting thing about that. Bernard's definition of luxury, and I saved this one for last intentionally, is the combination of quality and creativity. And Bernard actually doesn't like to use the word luxury outside of financial communications. His son Alexander is the same way. He in particular thinks about these not as luxury brands, but just brands built by incredible craftsmen at every price point, and he hates this idea that luxury means things for rich people. He also hates the idea that people are buying these finely crafted goods just for status. But I think that represents the shift of the business that LVMH is in. Some of the things they make are luxury. I mean, if you're buying a $20,000 Louis Vuitton bag or trunk, that's a luxury good. But there's lots of things that they sell that are actually expensive premium, where it's about the craftsmanship. The craftsmanship is so good, this durable thing will last forever. The creativity that went into this sets it apart from anything else in its category in a way that literally provides value to you. And I do think as they address more and more people with more and more brands and more and more price points, there's a lot more about these products that is actually ultra premium. And I think the way that the leadership of the company talks about them, the durability, the craftsmanship, those are signs of premium objects, not luxury objects. Ooh, that idea that LVMH is both luxury and ultra premium within the same conglomerate. Is a great point to make as we transition to the next big chapter of our LVMH drama here, which is just so delicious. They made a whole movie out of this. Books, movies, so great. Should we talk about some Gucci drama? Gucci, yeah, let's do it. But first, we have a new sponsor joining the acquired family today to tell you about. And this one has been a long time coming. It is a company called Revenue Cat. Revenue Cat makes in-app subscriptions easy for developers and product teams to implement and is used by companies like Notion, Visco, and Cameo for their in-app purchases. I can say a long time coming because the co-founder and CEO Jacob Eiding is a long time friend and acquired listener. I remember him pitching me on the idea for Revenue Cat on a walk that we took together in San Francisco in 2017. And he had just done this insanely complex manual work of configuring all the in-app purchases himself for iOS, Android, and using Stripe on the web for his old company. And he thought there had to be a better way to do it. And he wanted to do this sort of managed as a nice, tidy API with a robust backend for developers. And actually, some of you may remember, Jake was actually at our very first acquired meetup in San Francisco back in 2017. So fast forward five years going through Y Combinator, bringing over 22,000 apps on board as customers using the SDK, raising over 50 million adventure capital, including from the friend of the show, Onu Hari Haran, it is safe to say that their early belief that Revenue Cat could make life easier for developers has come true, super, super impressive. Even if you are not currently building an app with subscription billing, there is something really interesting to check out for all listeners. Revenue Cat sees a ton of interesting data flowing through their backend. So I mentioned the 22,000 apps that use the Revenue Cat SDK. It's worth pointing out that they have now tracked $4 billion of revenue for their customers. They've packaged up all that data into what they call the state of subscription apps report for 2023. They're literally the world expert in helping to answer questions like what percentage of free trials turn into paying customers, and how long do the best subscription apps retain their paying customers? You can check that out by clicking the link in the show notes or going to slash report. That's Revenue Cat, all in word, r-e-v-e-n-u-e-c-a-t dot com slash report to see all the cool, anonymized data that they have pulled together. It really is one of our favorite success stories in the acquired community of just truly building a product that people really want. If you end up kicking the tires as a customer, just tell them that Ben and David sent you. Our huge thanks to RevenueCat. All right, so before we get to Gucci in the 2000s, it's probably helpful to know about the massive globalization that went on to get us there in the 70s to the 2000s. Ben, are you saying that the Chinese consumer market became a thing? Yes, but actually the Japanese consumer market became a thing first. So in the 70s and 80s, there had finally been enough infrastructure built after World War II and Japan's economy was soaring. Japan also had this characteristic where they have, for thousands of years, had this reverence for fine craftsmanship. So as their economy developed, the middle class emerged, they're sort of primed to receive luxury. It was this incredible hotbed, especially when Louis Vuitton first entered the market to sell handbags. I think 2006 marked where 40% of all Japanese people owned a Vuitton product and extremely branded monograms everywhere. By 2008, all luxury goods period were sold in Japan and another 30% were sold to Japanese traveling abroad, especially in Hawaii. So that meant that Japanese people bought half of all luxury goods. Wow. It is wild. The globalization story around what happened to luxury from the 70s to the 2000s. And then the next chapter after that, which is like a whole order of magnitude more is China, which I think I'll put a pin in for now, because I think we can talk about it more as it relates to modern day LVMH. Yeah, but just a good focus and sense of scale. I think before the pandemic, China was the largest luxury market in the world, right? Yes, definitely was the number one revenue driver for LVMH. All right. Well, like you said, what's close out the 90s in style with Gucci? This is so amazing. And this is really like the one big, big fail. And it truly was a fail for Bernard and LVMH. Everything we were just talking about with luxury, with leather goods, with handbags, with Louis Vuitton, and then with the strategy of building a portfolio of brands, there are a couple, not many. You could count on maybe the fingers of one hand, the very natural other brands you would wanna go acquire to add to this. And Gucci, of course, is very, very top of the list. Oh yeah. If you're thinking about the star leather goods brands, it's basically like by 2000, the ones Bernard owns Gucci and Hermes. That's kind of the landscape. So at the end of the 2000s, LVMH had the perfect, perfect opportunity to buy Gucci and they totally let it slip through their grasp. There is this unbelievable vanity fair article written by Brian Burrow, who was one of the co-authors of Barbarians the Gate that comes out concurrently as this is all happening, he literally gets access and talks to everybody. Bernard, the Gucci folks, it's called Gucci and Goliath, we'll link to it in the show notes. It is so great. So in the early 90s, Gucci, despite being a fabled brand, best to tell you leather, blah, blah, blah, blah, kind of had become this incredible disaster. I happen to watch the House of Gucci movie this week. I mean, there's beatings that happen in the boardroom. There's murder like it's a disaster. I love you casually throw that in. I don't wanna like spoil the movie for anyone, but the protagonist does get murdered. And it is the guy leading Gucci and his last name is Gucci. So I guess there are spoilers here, but unbelievable story. And oh my God, this is all unfolding as Bernard is growing LVMH's revenue from $4 billion, $8 billion, nearing $12 billion in 2000. And now suddenly he's got this opportunity for the very best thing he could possibly buy to add to the empire is literally killing each other in the streets. Literally burdering each other. But somehow he fails to actually take them over. Oh my God, unbelievable. So as the family is falling apart, invest corp, the private equity firm, comes in and buys first a 50% stake in the business. And then ultimately ends up buying the whole thing. They own 100% of the business. So by the mid 90s, they've sunk about $200 million into this thing. It's totally falling apart. We talked about the brand delusion at Dior with the licenses Gucci at this point. Head, I kid you not 22,000 different licenses like toilet paper. You can see Gucci like on the street and you'd have no idea if that was a counterfeit or if something of that quality was actually Gucci. Yeah, totally. It was so bad. But these brand names have such value and this was an obvious target for LVMH to scoop up. And in fact, Bernard goes and talks to invest corp and reaches a verbal agreement in the mid 90s to buy Gucci from them for $400 million. Invest corp gets a two extra turn on their money. They get rid of this problem. LVMH gets this great brand. They would have essentially been like stealing Gucci. I mean, $400 million for what Gucci became? I mean, LVMH wasn't the size of this today but $400 million for God's sake, take a flyer on this thing. The parent company of Gucci today caring does $13 billion in revenue. Yeah, oh my gosh. Why Bernard didn't pull the trigger on this is like unfathomable. But as he gets into diligence after agreeing on the deal, he backs out and he tells Invest corp very famously that Gucci is actually worth nothing. Okay. Oh boy, does he regret that one? So Invest corp here now. They're like up a creek without a paddle. They've got this company, this brand. The family has destroyed each other. Who's gonna run it? They tap the guy who had been lawyer to the family and then became CEO of Gucci America. Dominico de Soleil. Dominico de Soleil. Total legend. He was familiar with the business. He'd been a lawyer but kind of operating. Harvard Law School guy. So maybe he can save something here. So they make him CEO of the whole company and he promotes the last real designer that Gucci has left on the payroll. A 32 year old junior designer named Tom Ford, the creative director of Gucci. You keep saying all these people's names like young people getting promoted in a house but I actually know them from their own eponymous house that they had later. Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Man, and this team, Dom and Tom, as they come to be known in the industry, they are like a phoenix rising from the ashes. So Ford takes a huge risk. Google Tom Ford Gucci in the 1990s. Porno Sheik is the term that becomes used for it. Like the way you win in fashion is you take crazy risks and shock value and people go nuts for it. Like overnight after Tom Ford's first collections, Gucci revenue doubles, they get back to profitability. So it was the end of 1994 when Bernard walked away from the deal. By the end of 1995, the brand is so hot that invests corporate IPOs the company on the New York Stock Exchange. And it trades up to like a $3 billion market cap. Oh my God, insane. Bernard has just got to be totally, totally pissed at this point. Sweetness. But he gets another bite at the Apple because just like we've seen with all these businesses and the families, like Bernard said, if you're not the primary principal shareholder in your business, you're vulnerable. And here's Dom and Tom, they were outsiders. They're not the family. They don't own this company. An Invest Corps bounded, they just IPO'd it. The whole equity of the company is free float public stake on the New York Stock Exchange. So this is the perfect setup for Bernard and LVMH to run their playbook, come in and take over the company. There's a great quote from Ford in the Fandity Fair article. We were just sitting here waiting for someone to take us over. It really bothered me. It was just so frustrating. And then in June, a 9.5% outside shareholding stake gets disclosed by a large European luxury company. Everybody's thinking like Dom and Tom, they're like, for sure Bernard is going to come make a run at this company. It's not LVMH, it's Prada, the fellow Italian led a goods company. Disolley in Ford, they're like, this has got to just be a front for LVMH, like something weird is going on here. Couple months later, January, 1999, LVMH finally does show up. They take a 5% stake in the company that they buy on the market. And then for our interviewer, Arno here writes that Arno was adamant that the plan was not to attempt an immediate takeover of Gucci. He was worried about whether the Gucci turnaround can last. And so instead, he wanted to build a stake and get on the board for a few years and then quote from Arno, then maybe we make a bid. This is kind of rational. Like Gucci was worth nothing a few years ago. Dom and Tom have totally turned it around, but they haven't proven that this can be lasting here. So Gucci retains Morgan Stanley to help them here. And they advise, Dominica, that probably what's going to happen next is Bernard is going to go to Prada and buy the Gucci shares that they own from them. So they should go back to Prada and get them to be an ally. But Disolley doesn't do it. He thinks it would be a sign of weakness to go to Prada because he thinks words are going to go back to Bernard anyway. So he doesn't do it. And of course, what happens within 24 hours, the news comes out. LVMH has acquired Prada's sharing Gucci. They now own 15% of the company. One might call this a creeping takeover. A creeping takeover is Disolley calls it in the press and then off this quote is so great. He says to be embarrassingly candid, we didn't think through our initial strategy very well. We were caught completely by surprise. They were takeover professionals. We spend our time figuring out how to sell more handbags. Oh, you could tell he really doesn't want to sell to Bernard. Yeah. So meanwhile Morgan Stanley is pulling their hair out. They're like, dude, you got to do something or you're going to get steamrolled. So they're like, we've been talking LVMH. I think if you go to Bernard and you say, let's work out a deal. I'll let you on the board in exchange for you keeping your ownership below 20%. And Dominica is like 20%. He's at 15. I don't want him owning more of the company. Like what kind of deal is that? Right. So he's like, no, no, no, no, no. We're not going to do it. And then Morgan Stanley is like, you got to find a white knight then somebody else to come and invest in the company and keep LVMH away. They start calling every other luxury and fashion CEOs in the industry nobody's interested. And this is weird. Like Gucci's on the rise. Why would these other industry CEOs, why would nobody be interested in investing in Gucci? Did someone poison the well? Did someone put the word out? What's happening here? And then like more weird stuff starts happening a couple times like twice. He doesn't say with who, but Dominica gets close in negotiations. The company's interested. And then all of a sudden LVMH comes in and buys some more stock right at that very moment. And then the negotiations end. Burl interviews Arno as this is going on. And he says Arno Grogens when asked about this. Through our bankers, we knew exactly what was going on. He says of disolace, aborted moves. The people who refused him called us. I mean, it just goes to show like he has people's loyalties in a way that makes it really hard to compete against him because every time you feel like you might be making an ally, you realize they're actually in Bernard's pocket. Or if Bernard shows up, they're going to be loyal to him because they either are scared of him or want something from him in the future. So at this point, De Soleil and Ford and Gucci are desperate. And one of their lawyers at Scadden comes up with what sounds like a pretty crazy idea. That he's like, well, if nobody outside is gonna buy a huge block of Gucci stock and save you from LVMH, what if we do it on the inside? We can create an employee stock ownership plan, an ESOP, and what if we just give the ESOP something like 25% of the company? This is like a very much a kind of crazy last ditch attempt. Even more in Stanley is like, oh, no about this one. But Dom is like, all right, let's do it. So he decides like, okay, if we're gonna do this, we need a paper trail that we're not totally acting against all shareholder interests in defending ourselves against LVMH. So he gets in touch with Bernard and says, hey, we'll sell you the whole company. Buy it now price of $85 a share. It's been trading at about $35 a share before this whole like kerfuffle started. $85 is a high price that he's asking for. But he needs our node's rejection to show that he's acting in shareholder interests here. Arno of course rejects it. So Gucci hits the nuclear button and they create the ESOP and they issue at 25.5% of the company. Now, LVMH is shocked because their understanding from having studied the files on this is that if you're traded on the New York Stock Exchange, you can't do a transaction for 20% or more of the company without a, alerting all shareholders and be getting a special exemption. It's like a shareholder vote, basically. Shareholder vote. And I think from the stock exchange itself, what they didn't know is that there's a loophole. Foreign companies are not subject to this rule. They're subject to the local laws of whatever country they're incorporated in. And this particular and previously invest corporate owned version of Gucci happens to be incorporated in the Netherlands where they can do this. So they do this and kind of all hell breaks loose. Oh, everyone's pissed. Everyone's in a terrible position because now LVMH owns a lot of a company that is trying to hurt itself. So they have a lot of capital on the line. They can't actually can't take it over. And so they're like, okay, let's call a truce. Can we just figure out how to get out of this? They sue Gucci in Dutch courts, but there's still a big problem. There's no money here in this esoph. So it's not like Gucci's getting a bunch of capital that it can then go used to like bolster the company. This is like a one time shot they can fire. So somebody else could still come in or LVMH could come back and start buying on the market and say like, okay, we don't care that you diluted us, we're gonna make another run. So they still need a new investor to come in. And at this point Morgan Stanley's been calling around to everybody. They finally call up another wealthy French business person who they wouldn't have necessarily thought to call at first because he's not in the luxury business. They call up Francois Pino. And this is the birth of LVMH's biggest rival, Kering. So Pino started his career as a timber trader of all things and then he got into retailing. He's kind of more like a closer to Sam Walton than Bernard Arnot here in France. Definitely, definitely not a luxury guy. But he's also a Morgan Stanley client. So the bankers put the two of them together, Dissolay and Pino and Ford all kind of hit it off. They're talking after and Ford says in the Vanity Fair article that he and Dissolay are talking after they meet. And he says Pino was perfect. A nice man, obviously good to his people. But his greatest asset as he saw it was his ignorance. That was the key. He knew nothing. We didn't need his fashion expertise. We needed his money and the last thing I need is somebody coming into my office giving me advice on what to do. That was the number one positive point to Pino. Obviously not what Bernard was gonna do. So they hammer out a deal. And in the next few days they agree that Pino is gonna invest $3 billion at $75 a share for 42% of Gucci. And that's $10 cheaper than what they offered Bernard. Yeah, but Dissolay and Ford are gonna continue to control the board. And as part of it, they're gonna cancel this e-soft thing. And then they're like all agreed in principle on the deal. And Pino's like, I got one more thing. I think you're gonna like, I was thinking anyway about buying Santa Fe's beauty division, which has a couple assets that I want. But Buried Within It is sort of the remnants of a label you might be interested in, called Eve a San Laurent. That is now owned by Santa Fe. And I'm thinking about buying it. And if I do that and we do this deal, I'll give you guys Eve San Laurent. And you can run it. Ford says he asked, did I want it? And I said, F, yes. Eve San Laurent is the number one brand in all the world. They're so bitter at Bernard and LVMH, all of them together now they're like, where can I go? Crush these guys. So they announced the deal and Bernard goes nuts. This could not have backfired more spectacularly. He had the option to buy it on the table for $400 million to buy Gucci. He missed that. Then he thought he was going to be cute and do this. And instead, he just created an incredibly well-capitalized, direct competitor with its own legendary fashion brand within it. Yep, brutal. And caring to this day is the number one rival. I mean, when you look at luxury groups, you've got LVMH, which is a monster doing 80 billion in revenue. But then you look around, you've got caring, which is much smaller, but the closest at 13 billion in revenue and Reeshmont, which we haven't talked about yet, but as a Swiss company, they own Cartier and some other things doing 14 billion in revenue. So everyone else is sort of down around that range. There are some other family-owned players, not in this category, but in jewelry, so Rolex does 13 billion. You've got Chanel, which does 16 billion, but that's privately owned by the family. You've got Prada much smaller, four billion in revenue. You've got of course, Hermes, which we'll talk about in a minute. I think they're about 10 billion. Yep, they're right around 10. But creating formidable luxury group competitors, yeah, caring is that smaller, but that. Yeah, they are the clear number two. But when it's all over, LVMH still owns 19% of the company, even though Pino just came in and bought it and is going to transform it into caring. The three parties Pino, LVMH, Gucci, they all negotiate for like two years until finally, crazily enough, on September 11th, 2001, they announce a deal in the morning, Paris time before September 11th happens. LVMH will sell its Gucci stake in two tranches and because of the appreciation in Gucci stock through all of this, they will end up making a profit of about 760 million euros, which led Dmitigo Desolets to remark even when he loses, he wins. Totally, which you know, it's upsets as a hallmark of Bernard, although I think if you were to ask him today and he were to be honest, he lost here. Even if he made 760 million euros, he lost on this one. Yep. To solely and for eventually due clash with Pino, so the kind of number one thing that they wanted from him to stay out of the business doesn't happen, maybe predictably. In 2004, they leave and they start Tom Ford International. That itself becomes a huge success. It just got acquired last fall by Estee Lauder for $2.8 billion and that $2.8 billion that doesn't sound like a lot compared to the other numbers we're throwing around, but from a startup brand to acquisition and was that 15-ish years, that's pretty awesome. So this Gucci thing, we've talked a lot about the rise of Bernard or No and LVMH and this is pretty much the only time so far that they weren't successful. Even then they made $700 million and this whole time had been generating more and more and more revenue. I think in 2000 they did 12 billion in revenue. That would continue to grow to close to 20 by 2010 and up to 40 in 2017. And more recently, right before COVID hit, they were right around 55. And then I mentioned of course closer to 80 today. So on the one hand, it's a miss. On the other hand, they were plenty productive during the whiff. It's kind of like the NFL missing social media. It was a miss, but they're just fine. Right, right, that's a great comparison. All right, so David, Gucci was in some ways the white whale but there was another white whale and we're not gonna tell it in full detail because I really do wanna just do a full Hermes episode at some point, but we gotta talk about Hermes a little bit here. Gucci became the core of caring, which is the little brother to LVMH. Hermes is the anti LVMH. Right, stayed in the family ever since it was founded. It's on its sixth generation of super distributed family ownership. It never like changed hands to some investor and came back. Yep, there's one brand. It's not a family of brands. There's no economies of scale. Weren't you telling me over text that they like don't even use computers in the business? Correct, Gucci uses computers to model new designs. Hermes definitely doesn't or at least didn't as of the writing of the book Deluxe about 10 years ago. The other thing that they don't do is use any assembly lines. You'll get a batch at Louis Vuitton of a stack of 20 sides of a handbag to sew a certain piece of stitching on and you'll do all those and then someone will deliver you another batch of 20. Hermes, the very same person takes it from raw material to completely finished without any economies of scale of the assembly line Hermes' craftsmanship. And of course Bernard wants it. Of course he does. So right as the Gucci drama is ending, Bernard starts very quietly buying little little stakes of Hermes on the public market. So owning control by the family, but they had floated just like all these other families, a small 20% stake on the public markets. But whenever he gets an opportunity, he buys a little bit and he doesn't want to disclose that it's him because he's just had this disaster with Gucci. Right. So he keeps it sub 5%, he's at like 4.9%. And he uses other entities and equity derivative swaps with other entities to like have the rights to stock that they buy but not have it be LVMH's name or anything associated with him. This goes on for like a decade. He ends up buying most of the public float of Hermes, which is crazy. Yeah, he had 14.2% by October of 2010. Literally a 10 year period, a slowly taking little bites through subsidiaries and through equity swaps. Finally then, like you say in October 2010, it gets announced the CEO at that point in time of Hermes makes a very famous comment that you can go look up about Bernard Arnoh's intentions that we won't say here on the podcast. Oof, not on a family friendly show. Not a family friendly comment. Let's say it's a extreme voicing of his displeasure. Oh, it's what is going on. But the net of it is LVMH doesn't win again and they never really were going to hear. This is the difference between the Hermes situation and the Gucci situation. Gucci was like a fail. They should have won. They were never gonna buy Hermes. Although Hermes, they did get up to 23.1% in 2013. They did, but I think like I said, that was pretty much 100% of the public float. Right, there was no path to getting to the 33% necessary. Yeah, I think at one point, Hermes almost got delisted from the stock markets because there was no longer any trading in the stock. Crazy. It was that extreme. Yeah, the interesting thing about this one is that it actually gets shaken out the French courts. So in 2014, a French court ruled that LVMH had to sell down its stake from 23%. Because it was illegal how they massed their identity and acquiring the stake. But the net of it is they had done some of it through Group A Arnoh and some of it through LVMH. And so Group A Arnoh had ended up with about 8% and the rest was owned by LVMH. So the court orders LVMH to distribute that out to shareholders. So awesome little dividend for all the LVMH shareholders. And what Group Arnoh does with their 8% is they use that to pay for the 25% of Dior that it does not already own. Yeah, this is the minority stake way back in the day that they had IPO'd of Dior to help finance buying into LVMH. Yes. And so of course, just like Dom DeCole says, Group Arnoh ended up with about 5 billion in profit from this whole thing, even when he loses he wins. And so they end up with more control over Dior, which then ends up just getting rolled into LVMH finally in 2017. The holding company Group Arnoh gets to go from 37% to about 48% economics. And I think somewhere like 63% of the control of LVMH by basically doing stock swaps. So now there's a problem solved where neither LVMH nor Dior, nor Group Arnoh own anymore Hermes. And because all of this has appreciated since 2001 when he started Bernard Arnoh has now solidified control over Dior and LVMH for the foreseeable future. Yeah, well, he had control. I mean, the big thing he makes through all of this besides simplifying the structure is about $5 billion in profit and they kicker because of the way this all happened with the stock swaps. Tax free. It was all tax free, unbelievable. Dom DeCole had it right even when he loses he wins. Yeah. Hermes though incredible company. It's like $180 billion market cap company today. Crazy. And it trades at a crazy multiple too. All of its multiples are like double the rest of the industry. I think LVMH's PE actually trades pretty close to like a tech company like Big Tech. It's something like four and a half times sales and 24 times earnings. Hermes trades at 48 times earnings and 13x sales. Yeah, it's a market cap is way higher than carrying a reshmone or any of these other companies. Yeah. All right. Let's bring this one home. All right. One big thing that happened right before COVID. LVMH says, you know what? I think we're going to make the biggest luxury acquisition of all time. We are going to pay $16.2 billion and we're going to buy Tiffany. Third times the charm with these big deals, right? Yes. And this one is particularly important because Tiffany is American luxury. There's not a lot of luxury brands in America because there's not a lot of history in America relative to Europe. And frankly, every time the Americans try to start something, there's some kind of fast corporate transaction. I mean, Tom Ford is actually a great example. Lots of value creation, company sells pretty quickly. Maybe it was fashion more than luxury. Maybe, you know, there's just a lot of like, it turns out Tom Ford is not going to be a 500-year brand. Either it's kind of against the American business culture, right? Like you're an entrepreneur, you start something. And especially in this industry where it's going to take 50-100 years to make it a $100 billion brand and you can sell it for a few billion dollars, why wouldn't you do that? Exactly. Get the cash into the family coffers and you can compound it in other ways. So Tiffany is a big deal because it is kind of the only American luxury company. Started by Charles Tiffany. He's worked with the US government. He's worked with major sports leagues. He's worked with the NFL. Yes. Tiffany makes the Vinselambardi trophy. In fact, a vice president at Tiffany sat down with Pete Rosel himself and sketched out over lunch the design of the trophy. And of course, they still make it today. They made the NBA's championship trophy, Major League Baseball. Tiffany is American luxury. And the French conglomerate is coming in to buy it up. The guy who we, America, trained in the art of leverage buyouts is coming and buying our crown jewel. Hey, we're a big tent country here. He can be an American anytime he wants. That's right. He posed with Trump in Texas to open a new Louis Vuitton factory there over the pandemic. That's right. So they're starting to do the Tiffany deal. And of course, it's LVMH. So they're going to exercise some tactics. One of which the pandemic has hit by this point in mid 2020. They basically retreat. LVMH says, you know what? Instead of 16.2 billion, we'd like to pay 15.8 billion. And Tiffany's pissed. They're like, why are you doing this? And they're like, oh, Tiffany is mismanaging the company. And so it's losing all this money now that it should have made. So we think it's worth less. And you're like, well, you side to term sheet. And so the whole thing kind of devolves. Tiffany starts issuing dividends out to its shareholders before the change of control happens. So now LVMH is even more pissed. Bernard involves the French government to try to put the deal on pause and get an exemption from the deal because the government says it needs to go on pause. It's like he can help himself. You think he would have learned his lesson from Gucci and from Hermes of just do the damn deal. It's $420 million or something that they're talking about here. And you know, it's for the only company he's interested in buying in America. So 10 months go by. They finally do the deal. It is at Bernard's renegotiated price of 15.8 billion instead of 16.2. But the Arno family now owns Tiffany. And my God has the business transformed under their ownership. Totally. I mean, the biggest and splashiest symbol being the huge marketing campaign and new faces of Tiffany, Jay-Z and Beyonce. Yep. And that campaign with the Boschiat painting in Tiffany blue. Yeah. Oh my gosh. So perfectly executed. I mean, there's so much controversy for all sorts of reasons around that. But you know, hey, what better press to generate for Tiffany. And the campaign around not your mother's Tiffany. They're insulting the entire existing customer base in order to try to get Gen Z adoption. They're showing models wearing things you'd never imagine seeing in a Tiffany ad. They took this behemoth and they turned it into something kind of rugged and in your face. And Alexander Arno talks about this in an interview. He's like, yeah, I mean, and I'm not quoting him here in paraphrasing. It's not really insulting to the existing customer base because like the mothers don't want to be mothers either. They want to be cool like the daughters. So no one wants to be your mother's Tiffany. It turns out there's actually some deeper stuff to all this that I think is worth going into here. You know, one thing we fast forwarded over to get to the end here is in the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was a huge amount of controversy in the luxury industry about what to do about black culture embracing these old luxury brands. Oh, right. The whole crystal thing, which by the way, crystal was originally created to be the champagne specifically for the Russians ours. So like luxury for royals happened in every country. Yes, totally. For folks that don't know, there's some great articles that are in our sources that we'll link to about this. But this is actually part of my old thesis back in Princeton when I'm writing about the champagne industry. I was wondering if you were going to reference it. Yeah. Jay Z led this boycott of crystal because the then managing director of Louis Rotor, which owned crystal put this statement out. He was interviewed in the economist about what he thinks about rappers drinking crystal. And he was like, I'm sure Delm Perignon would love to have their business. They can have it or something like that. I'm paraphrasing. And this is amazing. What happens next? So Jay Z leads a boycott in the rap industry of crystal. He goes out and he acquires another small champagne label called Armand de Brignac. Rebrands it as Ace of Spades launches the Ace of Spades champagne brand in his show me what you got. Music video directed by F Gary Gary fast forward to 2021. Right as Beyonce and Jay Z are becoming the global face of Tiffany, who comes in and acquires 50% of Ace of Spades for unannounced by probably the same. Unannounced by probably hundreds of millions of dollars. LVMH. LVMH. Meanwhile, one of the very few brands that they have built internally within LVMH over the past couple of years is Fenty with Rihanna. Rihanna is on Jay Z's rock nation label. That's how the relationship gets started. Fenty is this unbelievable success. They originally started it with the concept that it was going to be like all the traditional Maison. It was going to have a fashion line and a beauty line. The fashion line doesn't work. But Fenty Beauty is likely doing close to two billion in revenue. I think at this point. Oh yeah. Fenty Beauty is definitely one of the recent success stories. Yeah. That's amazing. So all this comes together in this Tiffany deal. Right. It is interesting. Is LVMH. Are they intentionally being more inclusive or does Bernard just always know where to find money? It definitely always knows where to find money. And I would say he also knows where to find artists. That's been an interesting shift toward celebrities in luxury where of course celebrities have distribution. But I think LVMH and a lot of the other companies now are recognizing the sort of dual benefit of working with a celebrity music or film artist because they are a creative person. They do actually know how to design product that will appeal to the masses. So they can sort of be the Christian Dior and they can be the Natalie Portman. Yeah. I mean, I think the Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Jenner kind of paved the way here. And then Fenty has been even more successful than that. Has it really? Yeah. Based on everything I could find in the research, I think Fenty Beauty is significantly larger than Kylie Cosmetics at this point. Wow. Wow. Rihanna is now a billionaire and is the wealthiest female music artist of all time, significantly wealthier than Taylor Swift. And it's all because of Fenty Beauty. Wow. And just to wrap on Tiffany here, the financial performance is exceptional as well. It's very quickly going to become a great financial deal. Tiffany was acquired a little over two years ago for the $15.8 billion that we mentioned and Tiffany just announced at earnings that they will surpass a billion euros of profit, which we're going to equate with dollars since they've been closer to the last couple of years, which is double what the business was earning at acquisition. Wow. Just two years ago. Yes. So this now means that LVMH paid just 13x earnings for Tiffany is pretty impressive. What did you? And so Ben, like you said a minute ago in 2019 right before the pandemic, LVMH as a group did about 50 billion in revenue in 2022. They just reported earnings. They did almost 80 billion in revenue and margins have expanded. They did over $20 billion in operating profits. That's like close to a 30% EBIT margin across the whole group. That's wild. This is not a software business. It's crazy. Their ability to generate this much free cash flow at the scale that they're at. I can't believe operating margins have continued to expand while they've grown from I think they've doubled revenue in the last five years and they've doubled the profits in the last four years. And this is a company at $80 billion revenue scale. I mean granted some of that's been through acquisition. So it's not all organic growth, but they clearly have a machine that they're putting these brands into when they acquire them. It's such a validation of the strategies that started back with Reckham and Chevrolet and then Bernard Arnot added and like the transformation of the industry. It's doing all this and there's carrying out there and there's reachman out there and there's our miss out there. It's not like they own the whole industry. There's still so much room to run whether to if they can pull off some of these acquisitions or take share or whatever. Like people don't realize how big the luxury industry is. And especially if they expand in a luxury travel like right now they only have the small acquisitions that they've made, but luxury travel is huge. Let's talk about that a little bit in analysis and just a sec because I have some thoughts on that. So here's some more numbers just to contextualize the business today. It's 200,000 employees across all the businesses. There's 75 houses. There is nearly 6,000 stores around the world and David you mentioned the $80 billion in revenue and $20 billion in profit. I think that profit margin that 25% operating income is actually depressed because of how forward looking they are. Arnot is reinvesting more into like fixed costs of stores and landing the best talent and signing long term deals, especially doing long term ad deals. They're investing in building all the brand equity across all 75 of these brands. They could be cash flowing much more than they are. 100% great point. All that has of course very famously recently made Bernard the newly re-crownt wealthiest person in the world. $218 billion up from I think 76 billion before the pandemic. So quite a spike. As Elon and Bezos have been going down he's been going up. And if you flash back 10 years ago he was worth $30 billion. So that's quite the transformation from 30 billion. There are many 30 billionaires. There are no other 200 billionaires. Yeah, wow. Man, that's compounding. Seriously. Of course there's now tons and tons of discussion about him, about his family, about all five of his children who work in the business. They all are like seem to be incredibly accomplished executives that have come up within the business in their own rate. Like strikingly, strikingly competent and very, very smart. And it's worth knowing each of the kids. It's reported that they each have a 20% stake in the holding company, but there's a mechanic where they can't sell their shares for 30 years. So there's sort of an interesting longevity thing built into that regardless of their operating position within LVMH itself. Interesting. Well, I mean I'm sure given that Bernard has masterfully exploited family splintering in other brands in the past with a notable exception of Gucci. But yeah, he's not going to let that happen to his own family anytime soon. It appears to be pretty genuine too that they're close. They seem to spend lots of time together. They've all mentioned family dinners often growing up. Alexander often mentions how he sort of got an MBA from birth. Always talking about the business, but that doesn't apply like dad was always at dinner. And he doesn't just raise by mom, you know, well, I do think there's actually like a very close family dynamic here. And unlike other succession battles, which are highly reported. And you know, I think the Murdoch family is a great one. People leaking things about each other. This seems ridiculously amicable. And I don't know if it's just very French and proper, but they all seem to have great working relationships with each other. Yeah, a striking thing about the kids and the family is that at least most, if not all of them, doesn't seem like they were gifted these positions. They came up through the business and quote unquote earned it, but earned their positions in much the same way that Bernard did in his own family company. Like Alexander is a great example. He went to polytechnique. Great. Those are blind admissions tests. I also think it's funny. A lot of the background of a lot of the people that we've talked about on this episode. People won't really be familiar with. If you look at Alexander's resume, it looks like a lot of yours listeners. I think that's a really interesting thing to point out. He went to college for computer science. He worked at McKinsey. He worked at KKR before going into the family business. I mean, it is interesting how much he has sort of weaved into the American tech and business world. All right. We should talk about another of our very, very, very favorite companies here on acquired Vanta. Woo. Definitely premium much more about value than about luxury ultra premium for sure. I don't think anybody is getting sock to certified. Well, actually you could say a sock to certification is really about signaling to your customers that you really value their privacy and data security and all these things. You're using utility language here. Am I stretching it? Yeah, this is a premium product. It's pure utility because it's a way to go generate more revenue because you have a certification. Which means you should do it. Which means you should do it. All right, David. Tell us about Vanta. Indeed. Just like you're saying, if you sell B2B and you want to close and grow major customers, you have to demonstrate trust and you have to prove your security and compliance. But doing that on your own can be time consuming tedious, expensive, a huge pain, especially if you're a startup. Unless you use Vanta. Vanta automates up to 90% of the work for the most sought after compliance standards like sock to an ISO 27001 and gets you audit ready in weeks instead of months. And this is huge, especially if you are a startup. No, you should use Vanta. You can get up to 400 hours of your teams time back and an 85% cost savings. This is the perfect example of don't do what doesn't make your beer taste better. If you are not a luxury brand and you need to do everything to make your dream taste better. If you're not that, if you're selling B2B for God's sakes, use Vanta. For a limited time acquired listeners can get $1,000 off Vanta. Just go to slash acquired to get started. You will be in great company with over 4,000 other Vanta customers. Strong. Our huge, huge thank you to Vanta. All right, enough about the succession stuff for now and Alexander and I actually think this place of leaving it with Tiffany and starting to speculate on the future is the right place to catch us up to now for the history and facts. And let's go into the analysis section and there's a lot of analysis to do on this company. So I'm pumped about it. This is going to be so fun. We of course have our playbook section, but before we do that, let's do power. And for folks who are new to the show, this is the section based on the book Hamilton Helmer wrote called seven powers where it really asked the question, what is it that enables a business to achieve persistent differential returns or put another way to be more profitable than their closest competitor and do so sustainably. And there are seven of these seven powers. Yes, the seven are counter positioning scale economies switching costs network economies process power branding and cornered resource and David one thing that I would propose doing for this episode is actually doing this exercise twice. One for LVMH itself as a business versus its nearest competitors, which really are the other holding companies, but then doing it for a brand in LVMH. Oh, let's do Louis. Yeah. So I think that's the appropriate one to do. And the reason I want to do that is because I think the reason we're doing this episode at all was our fascination with brand power. I think let's take one of the most spectacular luxury brands in the world and examine its power. And I think these are going to be really different for the holding company level versus the bread super different to your observation earlier that Bernard realized that luxury groups could be much better businesses than luxury brands and have completely different methods of profitability and sustainability. I think that was super astute and I think this is one of all sort of tease it apart. Yeah, totally. Well, I think that as we talked about a lot earlier in the episode at the holding company level. There is now no doubt in my mind that LVMH has extreme scale economy power. I'm glad you bring that up Bernard has a great quote. We have been seeing for the past 25 years a growing desire for high quality products and an acceleration of buying power nowadays the internet makes this planet much smaller product launches now need to be global in order to be successful when you start something today you usually have to start it all over the world at the same time to be successful. And you need to be able to see what's going on everywhere instantly this requires higher investment which gives us an advantage. There's so many dimensions to this and again we talked about a lot of them earlier in the episode but there's obviously capital having financial firepower that is way above what any individual brand can have is hugely important when you're talking about real estate when you're talking about buying advertising when you're talking about raw materials. Right. Do you want the LVMH rate for this billboard or do you want to pay the rack rate for this billboard. I think the people element is huge. Are you going to attract the best creative and management talent to XYZ family brand versus LVMH good luck with that. You are super right I think it's in negotiating contracts in capital everything about this industry takes way more money to get something off the ground than it used to and frankly to compete it's the exact same thing that Bob Iger realize when he took over Disney and actually why he did the fox deal. Is he sort of realize there's going to be very few players left standing in this reorganization of content and distribution and why he wanted to make Disney one of the few scale players is because you need scale to be successful and I think he realized that it was worth diluting shareholders to go and make a bunch of acquisitions in order to accomplish that scale I think Bernard realized the exact same thing about luxury. There's also another dimension to this which maybe you could lump into the advertising economies of scale but that I think is maybe something a little different which I would call cultural economies of scale that have come out in especially in the social media era think about the J. Z. Beyoncé relationship and the Rihanna relationship. These are relationships that extend across multiple LVMH brands that I'm sure are incredibly expensive and require a lot of capital but is not just the capital right why did J. Z. and Beyoncé choose to work with Tiffany would they have worked with Tiffany for this campaign of Tiffany were still under its previous ownership like I don't know. Maybe not maybe but you're right it makes it more attractive right their business partners with Ace of spades with LVMH their business partners indirectly with Fenty with LVMH and LVMH has now also built a corporate brand around reinvention so like would J. and Rihanna trust the old stodgy old Tiffany's when they said hey we want you to be the global face and we're going to totally blow everything up and sort of appeal to a completely new set of people I don't know if you do that deal. But if it's Bernard and Alexander ono and the rest of the family and proven success well I think the calculation for J. Z. Beyoncé Rihanna you know and anybody of that stature is not. I don't think anywhere close their brand value is the most important thing to them and so they can be very certain now partnering with an LVMH group brand or group of brands within LVMH that it's not going to hurt their brand value and probably will enhance their brand value you can't say that about any other luxury group out there. Yeah this is an interesting point from the luxury strategy also about using celebrities in luxury advertising one can't outshine the other you need to pick celebrities that elevate the brand a little bit or brands that elevate the celebrity a little bit but you can never have too much of a mismatch or else someone goes someone got paid. Like if you have a really high end actor common advertise your new startup jewelry brand people go wait what and they don't trust your brand or let's not say a startup I think this illustrates also maybe some of the difference between the power at the holding company level versus a brand level let's say Hermes wanted to do a campaign like that. I don't know I think that's a big risk for a celebrity of the stature of a Beyonce to do that even something a brand is great as Hermes they've never done anything like this before that would be such a radical change for the whole organization whereas LVMH even though that was a radical change for Tiffany to do this that's just another day in the office for group LVMH. Hmm that's an interesting point like they know how to manage that right okay what besides scale economies exist at the group level there's no counter positioning I don't think only to the extent that the whole idea of a group of brands was different but the rationale behind doing so with scale economies other brands could have and did create their own conglomerates see carrying and reshmaten and the like so it wasn't unique. The interesting point around branding which we're obviously going to talk about with power for the brands themselves I do actually think there is brand power around LVMH now I think they're intentionally building brand equity in LVMH there's higher production value around the LVMH brand whenever they're creating videos or anything for shareholders so I do think they're trying to build LVMH as a corporate brand which I think is related to what I was to say. I was just talking about with working with celebrities in the same way that Warren Buffett built corporate brand around Berkshire Hathaway by saying it's better to be acquired by me than someone else for the same price. Yep I totally buy that which is ironic given the history of LVMH in Bernhard's acquisitions but yeah totally. It'll be interesting to see if LVMH shows up on more consumer facing things it's very boring like it's just a serif LVMH and I actually have been working on the little album art thing for this episode and I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do with it and listeners you'll be able to see whatever I came up with after this but it's so no one recognizes LVMH in the broader world yet should I use the Louis Vuitton logo so people will click on it should we use the LVMH logo to be the most intellectually honest even though. Most people don't know what it is it's sort of an interesting conundrum and I think LVMH is trying to solve that by building the LVMH brand in the business world which is definitely happening like there have been moments in the past where Bernhard was the wealthiest person in the world and I don't remember anywhere near as much a being made about it as there is this time. Yeah, I think that's right. Lastly, I do think at the group level cornered resource power is coming into play when you think about the idea that Bernhard had around star brands there's only so many in the world and the more LVMH collects the more they can sort of feed it into the rest of the flywheel and they're basically in a battle with the other groups to go catch them all at this point. But it's barely even a battle carrying is the second biggest and they have so many fewer star brands right in practice it's about staying independent or selling the LVMH like when Christian Louis Vuitton eventually does decide that he's going to sell or Georgia or money does or we'll see if her as ever does it seems like it's going to be the LVMH. Yeah, even just it's related. This is now come of the scale economies advantage right but if Hermes ever does sell which maybe won't happen for a hundred years but might happen in a hundred years. Who else is going to have the capital to buy them. Yep. Okay, power at the brand level and let's case study on Louis Vuitton. Yes, this is great because there's the direct competitive example of Hermes right there. Yep, actually let's put it a different way what exists besides brand power for the brands. Because the brand power thing is super obvious I can go and get something of the exact same utility at target or I can go to Louis Vuitton and they serve the same utility at 10,000 ex price points. So I'm wildly willing to pay more for something with that mark on it. I have two thoughts. I don't know though if both of them ultimately collapse under brand value but I think there might be an element of cornered resource here in that you think about like what's so important for these luxury brands is heritage and provenance and the physical story of the goods and those are people materials and physical locations and those are cornered resources. Champagne yeah or like Hermes and Louis Vuitton with the that tell you is that the products are made in right because to your point of what makes a luxury brand by the most traditional definition of luxury different from premium. Defensible it is the fact that it is more desirable than its function alone and that people believe that that desire ability is durable among generations and the way the implementation that you create that durability is often through place and story. And so if you own the place and you own the story you own the reason why someone would believe in the longevity of that brand to opt into it at these price points. But at the end of the day it gets expressed in brand value right. Well I have to have Hamilton on to debate the finer points of that one we will maybe there's a little bit of counter positioning here too I mean like I do think that Hermes and Louis Vuitton are directly counter positioned. I mean Hermes is counter positioned or directly positioned against each other yeah no no I don't think Louis Vuitton is at all counter positioned against Hermes I think the other way around it definitely is. Louis Vuitton is pretty mass market and let's be honest there's some delusion risk there too like you can buy a lot of products that have the LVs or the Louis Vuitton name on them totally like LV is very in your face with the monogram and the flashiness and Hermes is very deliberately not in your like it's a if you don't know you don't know you know. Yeah but man is LV good business so I mean they're both just incredible businesses anything else you got any arguments for any of the others no but that section could annoyingly be summed up by luxury brands power comes from brand. At the brand level yeah but I think the holding company level is interesting and different yeah okay let's talk playbook yeah let's do it so. The way that I want to do playbook the way that I've been sort of thinking about it is what should you walk away with this episode and have as insights or things you learned or things that could be applicable to your business. I think one of the most interesting ones is Bernard had the insight that with scale economies there were going to be massive profit pools in the luxury industry and we can talk about the sort of trend of why luxury became big in the 90's. In the 90's to today but when he had that insight he operated the business in such a way where he made sure those profit pools all collected with the properties that he owned so department stores have not had a great 20 years faceless manufacturers in China have not had a great 20 years all the profit dollars get squeezed out of those especially in America I'm less familiar with the rest of the world but. The straight up retailer that's been decimated right if you're not a Wal-Mart target or Amazon you basically did if you're just a pure play retailer in America or if you're a specialty retailer in America in which case in certain cases you might be doing extremely well see for example home depot. So I think that one of the biggest things for me is he just really figured out how to make sure that he owned not only the locations of the value chain like brand that they were going to accrue to but the brands in particular that all the profits were going to accrue to. I think another big one is realizing where to realize synergies and where not to as Alexander puts it we have light synergies and specifically around media buying real estate retaining talent there's also something that we really didn't talk about that much which I think this is a good place to bring up which is around advertising so before the 70's luxury brands didn't really advertise and if you think about why it's who their clients were. It's that there was a benefit to their clients finding them there were fewer of their clients global wealth was frankly just smaller and globalization hadn't happened as much yet and so there weren't the stores in Japan and China and the internet didn't exist so you didn't need to like make a big splash everywhere all at once literally these companies would spend $0 on advertising whereas now LVMH spends over a third of their revenue on marketing broadly. LVMH is the largest luxury advertiser in the world and they spend what's a third of revenue over $20 billion a year on marketing it's astonishing and this creeping trend from the 70's to today of realizing that oh we do need to advertise or at least it massively benefits us if we advertise sort of beg the question what do they advertise and what they're advertising is interestingly not the products. That is differentiated in luxury everyone else advertises their products the dream it's always the dream luxury advertises the dream I actually can't tell you Louis Vuitton product names but I know Louis Vuitton and so if you were to ask me oh you have a lot of money and you'd like to go spend it on something fancy what are you going to buy I can tell you brands but I cannot tell you any of their products and I think that that's this really interesting difference. About selling the dream whereas in the premium and ultra premium industry which as we said is very different let's take apple the most successful example of that you know all about the products oh you should go buy the expensive iPhone because it has a dynamic island it's like literally the opposite right right they brand features of the products like a luxury brand is never going to brand a feature of a product right there almost never even going to brand a product luxury brands are about convincing you to opt into their lifestyle and their dream and the products are secondary jump another thing that we haven't talked about that I thought was worth bringing up in playbook is that at LVMH and maybe this is some lip service it was always lip service at Apple to some extent around not doing focus groups the marketing department is the same way that Steve jobs always thought about a marketing department the designer is a creative person who has a genius idea and works with a team of implementers to make the product. And then marketing only gets involved when it is time to make that product desirable for the world but at least in Bernard's view you sort of create crappy products or uninspired products when you commission market research studies to ask what people want and create it for them. Yeah marketing and product work together to market the product but marketing is not involved in product creation yes which again I'm not sure that that's particularly useful outside of creating luxury goods luxury is the intersection of art and commerce it is literally like creating something that is so close to art except it has to have some function that's what makes something a luxury good outside of being pure art which has no function and is all about. Either buying to signal or buying to interpret for your own beauty for that sort of luxury for self concept we were talking about early as soon as it have like some function now it's a luxury good. I actually think this lesson is incredibly useful I had my notes to bring this up a little earlier but now is actually the perfect time in analysis. I think after having done this now that the luxury industry it is a creative products industry there are other creative product industries such as the movie industry the music industry the publishing industry the video games industry and the parallels and lessons across all of these are very transferable I think. And in particular I think one innovation that we probably didn't do enough justice and in history and facts that Bernard brought to the industry and LVMH brought to the industry is the professionalization of business management within luxury and partnering with creatives and that there is a art to the business too and that is so applicable in many things we've covered on this show like in the media industry that is. The NFL that is CAA that is Disney that is the video game industry for sure I think I was like a big aha moment for me and doing this like oh the luxury industry is actually very similar yeah you're right. Any time that you're in a creative industry it really is about figuring out how to first do the necessary and not sufficient thing for success of finding the most creative talented people to create it is art but it's art that then also has a function and then figure out how to market that. And if you work backwards from the customer in a very Amazonian way like they literally call it working backwards you end up with Amazonian products which are unbelievably high utility and completely uninspired yes maybe this is speculating a little bit industries could come in here but I think also it works both ways I think if you can have a really successful creative products company. The creative leaders need to understand business and respect business and the business leaders need to understand creative and respect creative you're right there's totally. And then you can see an invention in that leadership structure you look at a Tom Ford and a Dom dis array that is the right structure to lead a house and it is interesting when you come from this small family owned heritage of it's an artisan making something that's a small local business to turning it into a global brand you really do need that pairing of professional manager with professional creator. Totally get super telling that Tom Ford was in all the banker meetings and I don't know we didn't talk to him but I bet Dominica was like he's my partner he's going to be there. Yeah I think that's right the one beat that I want to hit in playbook here I want to phrase to you as a question which is what were the dominant factors in enabling Bernard to go from $15 million to $200 billion in equity value. Oh man and what were the big leaps that's such an enormous leap to go from not the founder of any of these businesses 15 million of capital invested to $200 billion. One takeaway could be leverage works when you're right you can take on a lot of leverage and I don't literally mean leverage I'm not sure if it's like borrowing money and paying against the debt. But all the creative financial structuring he did was leverage whether it's dad or structure or whatever. Right in different forms when the businesses do become enormously cash flow positive it's not a problem that you took on leverage and in fact it only multiplies your returns. And what we don't do on acquired is tell the stories of people who were wrong in their leverage and did a bunch of crazy stuff and then went out of business and in fact most of the time nobody cares about those stories we don't even know of them to tell them and Ron was this unusual example there are famous huge catastrophic blow ups but most blow ups are small and insignificant. And I suspect most stories involving leverage and in the blow up not in the great success right the most interesting thing is that story like LVM H is the story of compounded he was one of 10 that survived the first chapter and then he was one of 10 that survived the second chapter and then he was one of 10 and suddenly he's. And outlierish one in seven billion case of a person who managed to turn a very small amount of money into the most money in the world and of course we're going to tell that story but someone was going to accomplish that story it was going to happen to someone and so I think about this a lot on acquired where we're like wow yet another very very unlikely set of circumstances it's like should we learn from the lessons or was this going to happen to someone and so you sort of make up. It's survivorship bias make up the fact that well if you did all these things that they did you too can become like that for sure there's a lot of survivorship bias here I suspect that Bernard did have a view that almost nobody else had which was that both that luxury brands and particularly like Louis Vuitton and leather good luxury brands could get bigger than anyone imagined and he was right on that I think he also had a view that the Lindy effect of these brands is bigger than anyone realizes and so even when a brand falls on hard times if it has enough heritage and provenance you can bring it back like let's do this as a thought exercise could you permanently destroy the arm as brand or the Louis Vuitton brand or the Tiffany's brand. You can certainly temporarily destroy it and we told a few of those stories on this episode but could you permanently forever wipe it from the face of the earth you could you would need it to be bad for like 60 plus years because I think you need to be bad for an entire human lifetime adult memory. I think some of the reasons why a Gucci survives is because even if you don't know Gucci being good in the last 10 years there are a lot of people alive who recall it being something prestigious but yeah they're hard to destroy well and I think the likelihood that that would happen is extremely low because whatever company is currently managing that brand would go bankrupt at a certain point or would change control or whatever there's just too much incentive now for somebody outside to come in and. Buy it and resuscitate it and like the shelf life is so long you know yeah I think you're right you would have to have a dormant period of a human lifetime to permanently kill one of these brands and I was certainly the case with Dior that Bernard I think recognize more than anybody else yeah I think you're going back to the question of how did he build so much wealth in this period of time without starting as 100% equity owner of something which is how founders get wealthy. I think the Dior transaction and him being correct in how much value there was in the Dior brand and all the assets he could sell off I think that was a huge multiple very quickly I think he went from a net worth of 15 million to a net worth of actually we can do this calculation because when was he worth 800 million from his share in LVM H. Oh when he put the 800 million into the JV with Guinness that was 1988 and he bought Boussac and Dior in 1984 four years right so in four years he turned 15 million into 800 so a lot of the compounding happened right there yeah that was the key point that four years of that jump and then the compounding sense right getting a great deal from the French government and really being able to spot that market and efficiency. So Ironic that like the socialist French government essentially gifted the greatest business financial success of all time. I tweeted this but it's so deeply ironic that the greatest LBO artist in history is a Frenchman these ultra competitive American culture that we're in where we pride ourselves on GDP above all else and this great competition that we're in called capitalism and this is the right way to produce the most value in the world. Bernard Arno actually produced the most value in the world. I guess the Europeans just you know thinking longer time scales than anyone else right that's crazy. Okay I've got a couple quick ones one interesting one particularly in the leather goods business I think is that luxury turned out was a business that can scale and I think the jury might still be out a little bit on luxury travel. I think it's definitely part of LVMH and a luxury conglomerate strategy to add travel and experiential luxury to what they're doing but a hotel is never going to be like Louis Vuitton in that you can make a lot of leather handbags and a hotel only has so many rooms. Especially when the quality of service that you have to deliver to each guest in a luxury travel experience is enormously high yes definitely so I do think there's like this kind of interesting industry analysis aspect to like if you're going to enter an industry like of the Kennet scale and again intentionally or not Bernard got that or really right with luxury like it can scale. Okay that's one the other one this is interesting will see now in the period that we are currently in but I think this played out pretty telling Lee in the great financial crisis luxury is fairly recession resistant. Oh I've been waiting to talk about this yeah yeah which is another deep paradox about luxury well true luxury is recession resistant but whatever LVMH is turning out. May or may not be here's a thing that is an in our Google statement. Some percent of what LVMH makes is luxury and one minus that percent is not luxury and I don't know what those percent are but they definitely have a class of things that they sell to people who are billionaires and if the market drops 50% will still be billionaires or multi hundred millionaires and that impacts their desire for something by approximately 0% and so they will go by it at the same price or more and are completely insensitive to that. I think again you can probably look to the car industry as a really clear example of this. I don't know I haven't looked into it. I kind of doubt for our sales are impacted that much by recessions right. But someone who's going and considering buying a $400 Louis Vuitton clutch I imagine that whether or not you currently have a $200,000 a year job or were laid off from a $200,000 a year job pretty dramatically affects whether you're going to go buy that clutch. And so for the class that they sell to that is not wildly price insensitive on everything or who if there stock holding strap 50% becomes concerned and changes their behavior that affects their business and I don't have a sense of how much is the sort of completely price insensitive true luxury segment versus who falls into that more and I'm conflating to things here there's the like mass stage segment but then there's also the products that they have that are actually ultra premium rather than being luxury and so people are going to evaluate them on the merits of how useful are they. I think luxury travel is actually ultra premium travel. I think there's different segments I think it depends what type of travel you're talking about I think if you're talking about chivalp block where there are 36 rooms in Swiss Alps rate is the first of all block I think I don't think that's going to be impacted too much by a recession. That's fair but the $1,500 a night for seasons somewhere or Belmont which LVMH acquired like that I think the average Belmont room is probably in that call a $1,000 a night range yet that's for sure going to be impacted. Right and it's because people are literally evaluating the value of is it worth it not purely on the signaling to other people or the intrinsic sense of self that comes from staying at one of those properties you're like okay if I weren't going to share with anyone that I'm here is their value in staying at this very fancy hotel or can I get an almost as good experience for $500 less I'll go do that. For sure. Yep. The last thing that I want to bring up that's related to this idea of luxury is recession resistant or at least true luxury is which of course would be your bullcase on LVMH over the next few years is the unbelievable timing that Bernard had with the huge increase in global wealth. Yes. As he was building this business the internet happened which connected us all and made it possible to announce these products to the whole world it also made a whole lot of people really wealthy. I mean LVMH did very very well in the dot com boom and in the last five years of zero interest rate environments. On top of that entire nations emerged out of poverty and other nations moved from having merely a middle class to having a ton of discretionary income you look at the amount that the Japanese and the Chinese and in the near future and today the South Koreans are spending on LVMH goods there's this perfect storm of the creation of global wealth and desire to do something with that wealth to signal your level of taste. That none of this would have been possible without all of that going on in completely independent of Bernard's actions. Oh yeah super interesting you're text me some photos of luxury ad campaigns in the 90s. It was fun to look at them but we're looking at them like oh wow. Clearly the target market for these advertisements is Japan not America. Yep I think that's right. All right so moving out of playbook and closing our analysis. We're replacing grading we're talking about it with bear and bullcase from here we're killing our delings here yes exactly here is the bear case as I see it. They're too exposed to mass to each I think I've tipped my hand on that over the course of this episode or perhaps put another way they have attracted a lot of customers with entry level price points at least entry level for these products where they are selling a certain amount on value not purely on luxury itself. And those customers haven't all graduated to their high price point high margin products yet and so a lot of the raw dollars that they are doing in revenue are more subject to a recession. I don't know hard to know how much I bet they're probably also are a good number of customers who did graduate to the high price point items over the last couple years and then now as. The economy in particular certain sectors of the economy like tech have violently re rated here my graduate out. I mean the number of people that we know David that a year and a half ago thought they were millionaires or 10 millionaires or even higher and are now realizing that they're not yeah they're not I bet a lot of those people were buying luxury goods yep yep. Another one this is very short term but luxury goods were on a tear during covid obviously China sales fell off a cliff as everyone was locked down but globally the luxury market grew 22% last year and is projected to slow down 3 to 8% next year so. That's sort of a short term impact on luxury sales I don't think the LVM H really thinks in two and three year time frames and then the two more that I have in the bear case is one despite buying 75 brands there still isn't one that is as good as the original brand in the portfolio Louis Vuitton and so the fact that that is responsible for a quarter of all revenue and still makes the product that is the best business I mean fashion leather goods is 50% of all of LVM H but half fashion leather goods is Louis Vuitton that's not exactly a bear case on the business but it is interesting to observe power laws are a thing indeed all right David you any other bear case no I have nothing bad thanks to you. All right bull case. We've talked about luxury is recession proof we've talked about these brands are insanely durable I think we haven't talked about is Gen Z is buying luxury three to five years earlier than millennials did which I think is pretty interesting and also especially under Alexander's leadership LVM H has been much more open to collaborations than they have in the past you see the sort of Tiffany and Nike you see the JZ and Beyonce you see some of the stuff they are doing with Ramona I think the rise of sort of luxury streetwear and sneakers among Gen Z is going to end up playing in LVM H's favor Yeah the Tiffany Nike collaboration one those shoes look pretty awesome I want the whistle yeah to did you look at the prices yeah like 5,000 plus for these sneakers that's crazy as luxury they do the exact same thing that my hundred and twenty dollars sneakers do another ball cases while there won't be another China the current trend with South Korea is crazy they did 17 billion of sales in the luxury industry in South Korea last year so they've definitely got a market there and Southeast Asia is developing quickly India could be a strong luxury market so there's a lot to be hopeful there a lot of people also think there is a lot more running room in China especially as they sort of emerge from the pandemic another one that I mentioned earlier is LVM H as a brand itself and sort of building that corporate brand to be the buyer of choice will see if that happens but that definitely is able case and then my last one is really around family control that if they are able to do this succession well it does allow for very very long term views and leadership at the company yeah that was the one thing I was going to add on both case if you didn't cover it there we haven't gone into detail on any of the children but I think a lot of the narrative around LVM H recently has been this like oh the succession thing and like wow you know what drama who's going to take over the five kids are pitted against one another you know I think to a certain extent some people have thought that's an overhang on the stock but having to do it I mean I don't know maybe they're just very French and very good at putting forth a united front but at a minimum most of not all of the children are extremely accomplished and appear to be extremely talented managers of luxury businesses yeah I think the whole succession battle is something that the press wants to exist that isn't real yeah and even if it is real I think whoever wins is probably going to continue to do a really good job right yeah that's a great point well before we do carve outs I did want to do a little betting pool on succession now that we're here what will be lay out my what should we bet we bet a lot of them yes yes which are all men we're now five plus hours into recording I don't know what time this will be in the edited version and we have not yet brought up the famous Steve jobs could oh yeah lay that on us yeah so Bernharden Steve jobs were friends they got to know each other I mentioned at the top of the episode that LVMH was a big influence on Steve jobs in Apple it was particularly around the advent of the Apple retail stores that jobs sought out Bernharden and LVMH to get his advice and they became friends and supposedly Bernhard tells the story that as they're getting to know each other through all this one of them said to the other you know this iPhone that you're launching do you think people are going to be using it in 20 30 years and jobs supposedly said I don't know but I'm pretty sure that people are still going to be drinking dumb parents on champagne in 30 years I love that all right then the bet is on a bottle of Dom between you and I on who become CEO of LVMH yes all right who's your pick I'll let you go first all right so I'll go in order starting with Delphine who is a round age 47 right now who is the CEO of Dior the Couture House I think with Delphine and Antoine the two oldest they will stay on the board of LVMH they are the only two that are on the board right now I think Delphine continues to run Dior I think Antoine manages the family holding company which does include some other outside investments continuing to the third child I think Alexander is my pick and would be an awesome CEO for LVMH he speaks in a way that really underscores how much he understands the principles behind the brands the strategy the holding company strategy artistry of the company he knows the soul of the company he's amazingly only 30 but I think what he did with Ramo was unbelievably entrepreneurial he sort of independently went and worked with that family and said I've been using your products despite taking shit from my dad for 10 years for using them because I think they're great and then sort of cultivated that relationship and then ultimately waited for the Ramo family to call him and then we are looking to transition and sell the business there's no one we'd rather sell to other than you and our one condition would be if LVMH wants to buy it that you be the CEO and I think then he sort of took it upon himself to go and sell LVMH leadership on that idea ran that company and is now EVP Tiffany in this pretty spectacular transformation that's happening at Tiffany so my pick is definitely Alexander I think Frederick and Jean are too young they're like the babies of the family right now I think they're 24 and 28 and they each run watches so John runs LVMH's watches and Frederick who is 28 is the CEO of Tag Hoier and he was named that at 25 so Alexander's my pick I mean he's 17 years younger than Delphine so maybe that would be crazy for him to to go for but I think a lot of it depends on how long Bernard lives I don't think he's given up the rains anytime soon well they just voted to extend the limit of the CEO to 80 and actually Bernard put the limit in place of 74 or whatever it was the house rack I'm yeah yeah yes so great so great nobody's trying to ask Bernard right now yeah it's funny I mean I think that the press definitely thinks that Delphine is the leading candidate that's what I thought to coming into this but after watching as many talks and all those I could I was like I think that Delphine and Antoine Bernard's children from his first marriage I think they're more comfortable speaking French than English and the younger kids are more comfortable speaking English I agree with you though the interview that Alexander did at Oxford is awesome well worth watching we'll link to it in our sources he's incredibly compelling clearly understands the business to his very core so I think you would make an amazing CEO but because it's a bet I'm gonna go with Delphine all right I can't also pick Alexander here that's not much of a bet I mean you could and then we just have to exchange bottles let's make an interesting all right great great great it's on the record carve outs carve outs let's do it I'll go first I have two carve outs one semi related to the episode and one not the one not is the game craft podcast from our friends Mitchell ASCII and Blake Robbins over at benchmark principal the not so secret benchmark principal and which the retired uncle benchmark partner they put together an amazing limited podcast series on the goal I think of being the equivalent of the genius of the system book about how the Hollywood creative management business works I guess this is related to the episode after all you know in the luxury creative management business how we've been talking about but about the video game industry there's nothing really like that and it's so good Zim podcast form it's super compelling they do a great job their friends of the show but I'm just like huge huge fan of the show I've consumed all of their episodes so far I love it that's number one number two also related to the show and also a fellow creator is Doug Demiro my favorite car YouTuber I don't even care that much about cars but I just like he's very compelling this amazing amazing thing happened just go watch the video the story he just bought a Porsche career GT which is like this lifelong dream of his the Porsche career GT for anybody who knows about it I didn't know or care that much about cars but I care about Doug it's like one of the ultimate luxury car buyers this legendary car that Porsche made in the mid 2000s I think when it came out it sold for like $400,000 I think new and now pristine and rare color models of these are selling for like $2 million $3 million $5 million Doug just bought one and he made a video about it and it is one of the best things you will ever watch on YouTube it's so great it's just like so heartwarming all right that'll be my first dog Demiro video but I got to check it out it's so good he tells his whole story of being a creator and then he built a business called cars and bids it's a enthusiast car auction website for cars from the modern era as he says that's the only advertising that he does on the channel is for this company this business that like he built within his creator world he owns his own distribution and they just raised a big round from the churning group and he's some secondary as part of it cool yeah go watch the video it's great sweet we'll do I have to also once purchased I just made that has been awesome so far which is the peloton tread who luxury product or ultra premium I'm not even sure it's ultra I think it's premium good red mills are expensive so it's not that much more expensive than a good treadmill but it's great like I get access to all the peloton content under the same membership fee Seattle's freaking brutal in the winter and so it's nice to be able to like get some steps in when I don't want to go outside in the the gray muck so best summers in the world I think we rival like comah but the winters are tough Seattle summers are amazing well the fall is incredible in San Francisco but now is my favorite time in San Francisco because it's February and it's 65 degrees in sunny out notice like this is why I live here we got a couple specials coming up let's just do them in person yeah come on down guest rooms ready to go for you thank you my second is an article is my Derek Thompson and it is called the yearica theory of history is wrong it's awesome long form reddit December and it's basically about how we really make hay about someone's invention and the idea and so much of the value comes from doing all the hard things to make that idea real in the world especially around distribution and one of the big case studies is around vaccines and in particular around the original smallpox vaccine that came from taking some cowpox and using that and injecting into humans and even after someone discovered it it was really like the government effort to push that out into the world and the reason why we don't fear smallpox today is not because someone had a genius idea mean that's part of it but it's so much about the distribution and about what a disservice it is done to all of us to make government jobs on sexy when they're responsible for the hard part and the important part of so many of the innovations in our world so highly recommended there's a bunch of other stuff in there to that's just one of the case studies but the yearica theory of everything is wrong cool well with that a huge thank you to pilot vanta and new acquired sponsor revenue cat you can click the links in the show notes to learn more after you finish this episode come discuss it with the 14,000 other smart curious members of the acquired community acquired dot FM slash slack if you want to get some of that sweet acquired merch that everyone was talking about check it out acquired dot FM slash store if you want to listen to the LP show we are dropping an awesome episode actually tomorrow right after David and I record this with VJ Rajee the CEO of stat sig talking about some really interesting stuff that he worked on at Facebook he started basically Facebook's mobile business model of app installs and talks about his sort of winding journey at Facebook you know it's just a cool like a couple hundred billion in market cap creation right to sort of invent that and all the crazy internal tooling that they have at Facebook that he has now built into a company called stat sig that he's sort of bringing to the mass market which is very cool to learn about as a former engineer and PM so that is in the LP show search for that in any podcast player by searching for acquired LP show with at listeners we'll see you next time we'll see you next time who got the truth is it you is it you is it you who got the truth now