The elusive heiress is the first woman to gain a $100 billion fortune, as well as the 13th richest person in the world—making her the wealthiest woman alive today.
Over its years of existence, L’Oréal has become an indomitable household name and arguably one of the most powerful beauty empires in the world. Its products are on the shelves of numerous salons as the standard for hair care. Famous faces like Kendall Jenner, Kate Winslet, and Beyoncé have proudly represented the brand with its famous “Because You’re Worth It” slogan. The megacorporation not only produces its signature products, but is also the custodian of popular brands like Maybelline New York, Garnier, La Roche Posay, and CeraVe, among many others. As such, it’s no surprise that L’Oréal’s heiress and vice chairman, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, now holds the title of richest woman alive today.
The 70-year-old French billionaire is currently the 13th richest person in the world, and the only woman in the top 13, based on data from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. At present, her net worth is valued at $93.4 billion. However, she had reached the $100 billion mark shortly before, as Tara Patel of Bloomberg reported on December 29, 2023. According to Patel’s report, this makes her the first woman to have ever held a $100 billion fortune.
Though L’Oréal has been a popular brand for decades, Bettencourt Meyers’ recent surge of wealth had a lot to do with the waning of the COVID pandemic. According to Ramishah Maruf of CNN, stocks of the company rose by 35% thanks to waves of customers purchasing beauty products after the pandemic. Rob Davies of The Guardian adds that this surge contributed another $28.6 billion to Bettencourt Meyers wealth in 2023. The rise makes sense, considering how cosmetic products weren’t high-priority goods when everyone was still at home due to quarantine restrictions.
A Long-running Family Business
Today, Bettencourt Meyers and her family are L’Oréal’s largest shareholders, as per Annabelle Liang of the BBC, with “a stake of around 35%.” This isn’t the first time that a L’Oreal heiress has made history. Liliane Bettencourt, the mother of Françoise and former principal shareholder of the company, regularly held the title of richest woman in the world—including upon her death in 2017, reports Emily Burack of Town & Country. When Liliane passed away, Françoise inherited the throne to the family’s beauty empire as her only daughter.
L’Oréal came into existence in 1909 after the late Eugène Schueller—Liliane’s father and Françoise’s grandfather—set out to sell hair dyes that he had formulated himself. According to L’Oréal’s official website, Schueller then began distributing the products to Parisian hairdressers. The rest is history, as the brand continued to release products born from research and innovation, all while building the brand’s worldwide reputation through strategic acquisitions.
Though Liliane Bettencourt lived a life of luxury and died with a billion-dollar fortune, the later years of her life were rife with personal conflicts (including a struggle with Alzheimer’s). She left the beauty empire to her daughter Françoise, but they shared a complicated relationship, and weren’t on talking terms after a series of harrowing incidents.
The story is rather complex, though writer Tom Sancton explores the issue in-depth through his book The Bettencourt Affair and his comprehensive Time feature on the matter. To summarize, Liliane met a charismatic artist and photographer François-Marie Banier during her twilight years, and became very close friends with the creative. At the time, the heiress felt quite estranged from her daughter, whose scholarly interests didn’t quite intersect those of her affluent parents.
Banier was very charismatic, and soon, Lillian had begun showering him with billions of euros and other extravagant gifts. Shortly after the death of her father André, François pointed this out, accusing Banier of taking advantage of her mother and eventually inciting a court case that would put both her and Lilian in the spotlight, as well as lead to Banier’s four-year suspended sentence and fine for “abuse of weakness,” as per Sarah Keenlyside of the South China Morning Post.
A New Kind of Heiress
Despite everything that had happened in the past, things are looking good for L’Oréal and Bettencourt Meyers. The billionaire isn’t a typical socialite, however, as many know her to be a very private person who keeps to herself and her family.
“She really lives inside her own cocoon. She lives mainly within the confines of her own family,” Tom Sancton tells the BBC. He also elaborates on this in his Time feature, stating that the young Bettencourt Meyers was mostly interested in books and her piano, rather than grand parties.
Bettencourt Meyers is married to Jean-Pierre Meyers, the CEO of Téthys SAS—the family’s holding company, reports Emily Burack of Town & Country. Together, they have two children, Jean-Victor Meyers (37) and Nicolás Meyers (35).
Besides running one of the world’s biggest beauty empires, Bettencourt Meyers has also authored two books. These include “a five-volume study of the Bible and a genealogy of the Greek gods,” as per Anabelle Liang of the BBC.
Bettencourt Meyers has also involved herself in various charitable causes. When the famous Notre-Dame caught fire in 2019, she was among the billionaires who pledged millions of dollars to help restoration efforts, reports Katie Warren of Insider. She’s also the president of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, a charity that’s been supporting the life sciences and arts through grants, awards, and funding, according to Polly Thompson of Business Insider.
Though fellow French tycoon Bernard Arnault supersedes her in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (with a net worth of $161 billion at third place), Bettencourt Meyers has certainly proven that she’s in a league of her own in more ways than one.
Banner photo from the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller website.