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W


hen LVMH concluded its $15.8 billion takeover of the US jeweller Tiffany & Co in January this year, it was time for the hard work to begin. The French luxury goods conglomerate might have thought twice about the deal as the Covid-19


pandemic battered high-end consumer spending, but having negoti- ated a discounted price, the chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault declared himself ‘optimistic about Tiffany’s ability to accel- erate its growth, innovate and remain at the forefront of our discern- ing customers’ most cherished life achievements and memories’. To realise the ambitions of the so-called ‘wolf in the cashmere


coat’, who over many years has assembled a luxury powerhouse that includes Christian Dior, Fendi and Veuve Clicquot champagne, Tif- fany quickly shuffled its management. In came two trusted execu- tives from LVMH’s Louis Vuitton handbag brand and, arriving as executive vice president responsible for product and communica- tions, Arnault’s 28-year-old son, Alexandre. Arnault senior has kept his friends close but his family closer over decades of business success that has made him one of the richest men in the world. Including Alexandre, who previously ran the Rimowa luggage maker, four of his five children have roles within LVMH. Alexandre’s younger brother, Frédéric, was last summer anointed as chief executive of Tag Heuer, whose smartwatch activities he had been overseeing. Meanwhile, Antoine, a 16-year company veteran, serves as group head of communication and image, and chief execu- tive, of Berluti, the leather brand. Delphine, the eldest, is executive vice president of Louis Vuitton and joined the group’s executive com- mittee in 2019. In an era when meritocracy and transparency are twin watch- words that many modern businesses live by, it is striking just how commonplace corporate scions remain. Dynasties including the Wallenbergs, Murdochs, Rothschilds and Botíns hand on the baton from father to son – and, increasingly, daughter – as if no one else can be entrusted with ultimate responsibility. These scions are the chosen ones, growing up knowing that one day all this will be theirs. But with a comfortable childhood and the trappings of wealth comes the pressure of living up to your name. Envious outsiders may disagree, but this is a leadership type fraught with challenges. Scions often follow in the footsteps of founders who worry that their children are not hungry for success as they were. Some embrace their family empire and succeed in grow- ing and improving it, by learning from their parent but modernising when necessary and perhaps surrounding themselves with cleverer lieutenants. Some divert from the legacy, moving quickly to take the enterprise off in a whole new direction – not always yielding the best results. They must be careful. It takes a handful of generations to build a business empire, but sometimes only one to sweep it away. And the tough decisions required by scions can be coloured by pre- serving the broader family’s primary source of income and often nav- igating sibling rivalry, too.


That one of the Arnault offspring will one day replace their father at the helm of LVMH is no less predictable than the succession that took place at Banco Santander seven years ago. At 7.47am on 10 Sep- tember 2014, the Spanish financial services group disclosed to the world that its powerful leader had died. Emilio Botín was a giant of the banking world. Known as ‘El Presidente’ to his staff, over almost 30 years he turned a little-known Spanish lender named after an un- remarkable northern port city into a global brand, snapping up banks in the UK, US and Latin America. At 4.44 pm on that same September day, a further statement was issued by Santander. While expressing ‘deep sorrow’ at the loss of Botín, the board of directors announced that, following a meeting of the appointments and remuneration committee that morning, they had unanimously agreed to appoint his daughter, Ana Botín, as Santander’s new chair. The committee considered the 53-year-old to be ‘the most appropriate person, given her personal and professional qualities, experience, track record in the Group and her unanimous recognition both in Spain and internationally’. Despite the air of due process, it was written in the stars that she would one day succeed her father as he had succeeded his father and so on. Banco de Santander was created in 1857. A Botín had been managing director of the institution as early as 1895 and Ana’s grandfather became permanent chairman in 1923. But to dismiss the move as pure nepotism is to forget about the years Ana Botín had already spent in the business, including in 2010 when she took over at the helm of Santander UK, a scale player in savings and mortgages stitched together from three smaller lenders: Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley. Jean-François Decaux knows what it is to prove you are worthy. In September 1982, JCDecaux’s bus shelters had become a familiar sight in many towns and cities, installed and maintained in return for the French company earning a fee from the advertising panels they incorporated. But in Germany, there was nothing: no advertis- ing inventory, no office, not even a telephone line – which was why Decaux began making calls to drum up trade from the street. What he did have was a challenge from his father Jean-Claude, who had set up the company that bore their names 18 years earlier and had al- ready expanded beyond its home market into Belgium and Portugal. There is no job for you with me in France, the law graduate had been told. If you want to join the family firm, pick your own market and grow it from scratch. Decaux junior chose Germany because he had studied the language at school. What he didn’t realise was that 60 per cent of the market was controlled by a company owned by the local authorities of Frankfurt and Munich among others, which meant his biggest potential customers were also invested in his greatest rival. Yet if he wanted to get on, he knew that failure was not an option. ‘My father said to me, “I’m going to bet five million Deutschmarks


on you,”’ Decaux recalled. ‘He said, “I don’t speak German; I don’t want to go there. You go there, you know how the business model works because you grew up in the middle of this. If you lose the


ILLUSTRATION: BOB VENABLES


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