Meet billionaire L'Oreal heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the richest woman in the world, who has a net worth of R862 billion
- Françoise Bettencourt Meyers inherited one-third of L'Oreal from her mother, making her the richest woman in the world since 2017 with a net worth of $57.9 billion (R862 billion).
- Bettencourt Meyers had a fraught relationship with her mother. She filed a criminal complaint against the elder Bettencourt's closest friend for trying to manipulate the elderly heiress out of the family fortune.
- Despite being born into a life of luxury, Bettencourt Meyers preferred playing the piano and writing to glitzy parties, Vanity Fair reported.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Françoise Bettencourt Meyers may be the richest woman in the world, but her life hasn't been easy.
The granddaughter of L'Oreal founder Eugene Schueller, Bettencourt Meyers inherited a cosmetics fortune now valued at $57.9 billion (R862 billion) after a dramatic legal battle with a close friend of her mothers'.
Unlike a typical billionaire heiress, Bettencourt Meyers has focused her attention on her career as an author and a member of L'Oreal's board of directors.
Representatives of L'Oreal and Bettencourt Meyers did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment on her career, personal relationships, or net worth.
Keep reading to learn more about Bettencourt Meyers:
Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, 67, is the granddaughter of L'Oreal founder Eugene Schueller.
Schueller was a pharmacist by trade, who invented a new formula for hair die in 1908 that he called L'Oreal, Business Insider's Áine Cain reported. The product made Schueller extremely wealthy.
Bettencourt Meyers' mother, Liliane Bettencourt, inherited Schueller's entire fortune in 1957 and became a prominent socialite, according to Bloomberg. Bettencourt Meyers' father, André Bettencourt, was a French politician who served as a government minister and senator, according to Time.
The Bettencourts were well known in French society for their glamorous and exclusive parties, Time reported. However, Bettencourt Meyers never indulged in the same glamorous lifestyle as her socialite parents. She preferred staying in to play the piano or write, Vanity Fair's Tom Sancton reported in 2017.
Bettencourt Meyers had a fraught relationship with her mother.
The mother-daughter relationship turned stormy when Bettencourt Meyers was a teenager, according to Vanity Fair.
"Françoise was heavy and slow," Bettencourt once said according to Vanity Fair, "always one lap behind me."
Bettencourt also called Françoise "a cold child" in a 2009 interview with a French newspaper, according to The New York Times.
As an adult, Bettencourt Meyers chose to focus on her career as an author.
Time's Tom Sancton called Bettencourt Meyers a "serious-minded intellectual".
The heiress has written books on topics ranging from Greek mythology to Jewish-Christian relations, Bloomberg reported. Her most recent book, a Biblical commentary entitled "Regard sur la Bible," was published in 2008, according to its Amazon page.
Bettencourt Meyers also sits on L'Oreal's board and is the chairwoman of the family's holding company.
Bettencourt Meyers also served on L'Oreal's strategy and sustainable development committee, according to Bloomberg.
Her relationship with her mother came to a tipping point when Bettencourt Meyers initiated a decade-long family feud over her inheritance known as 'The Bettencourt Affair'.
In the lawsuit, Bettencourt Meyers alleged that her mother's closest friend, photographer François-Marie Banier, used his "platonic love affair" with Bettencourt to manipulate the elderly heiress into giving him approximately $1.86 billion (R27 billion) worth of cash, art and real estate, The New York Times reported.
Bettencourt Meyers filed a criminal complaint against Banier in December 2007, The Times reported. Bettencourt, who was diagnosed with dementia, disputed her daughter's assertion, said she freely shared her assets with Banier.
In a 2008 letter to Banier, Bettencourt described their relationship to him writing: "With you, I am like a mother, a lover, all the feelings pass through me. It makes me tremble," according to Vanity Fair.
In July 2009, Bettencourt Meyers told a French newspaper that Mr. Banier's "objective is clear: break away my mother from our family to profit from her," according to The New York Times. "I will not let it happen".
Bettencourt Meyers added nine other defendants to the case after a dramatic investigation, that even involved then French President Sarkozy.
The case went to trial in 2015. Bainer was convicted of "abus de faiblesse," or "abuse of weakness," sentenced to two and half years in prison, forced to pay Bettencourt €158 million (R2.5 billion) in damages. The jail sentence and payment were later reversed in an appeal.
The pair weren't on speaking terms after Bettencourt Meyers filed the criminal complaint in 2009.
"I don't see my daughter anymore and I don't wish to," Bettencourt said in a 2008 interview, according to Vanity Fair. "For me, my daughter has become something inert".
A lawyer involved in the case told Vanity Fair: "The mother massacred the daughter, then the daughter massacred the mother".
The lawsuit also drudged up long-forgotten family secrets, including speculation that Bettencourt Meyer's father and grandfather were Nazi sympathisers.
Schueller publicly commended Hitler's "dynamism" in the early years of Nazi Germany and was investigated as a Nazi collaborator after World War II ended, Business Insider's Áine Cain reported.
Schueller was also a member of a secret society that plotted to overthrow France's republican government in the 1930s, Business Insider reported. The group has been linked to multiple murders and bombings. Schueller bankrolled the group and hosted its meetings in L'Oréal's headquarters, according to Cain.
André Bettencourt wrote anti-Semitic diatribes for the pro-German press during the war, according to Time.
Even though she was on the winning side of the lawsuit, Bettencourt Meyers was later investigated for bribing a witness.
The investigation stemmed from a criminal complaint filed by Bainer in 2015, according to Vanity Fair. At the time, Bettencourt Meyers said the payment she made to the witness was part severance payment, part personal loan, and not a bribe for the testimony.
That suit and Bettencourt Meyers' countersuit against Bainer were resolved in a secret plea deal in 2016, Vanity Fair reported.
Bettencourt Meyers inherited tens of billions of dollars when her mother died in 2017, and valuable assets like this mansion in the suburbs of Paris...
The house is located in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a wealthy suburb west of Paris. Neuilly-sur-Seine is known in France as "power suburb, a place not only of wealth but influence," according to The Independent. Neuilly-sur-Seine is also the hometown of French actors Christian Clavier, Thierry Lhermitte, Gerard Jugnot, and politician Marine Le Pen.
The Art deco mansion and is where Bettencourt spent her final days, Time reported.
... and this mansion overlooking France's Brittany coast.
The mansion was one of Bettencourt's childhood homes, The New York Times reported.
Bettencourt Meyers lived in this nearby home.
French police searched this home in 2010 as a part of the investigations surrounding the Bettencourt affair, Bloomberg reported at the time.
Bettencourt Meyers lived there with her husband Jean-Pierre Meyers.
Jean-Pierre Meyers is the CEO of French spirits producer Tethys SAS, Bloomberg reports. He also has seats on the boards of Nestle and L'Oreal.
The couple has two adult sons, Jean-Victor and Nicolas, according to Bloomberg. Jean-Victor began serving on L'Oreal's board alongside Bettencourt Meyers in 2012.
Despite the controversy, Bettencourt Meyers' fortune has grown exponentially.
Bettencourt Meyers is worth $57.9 billion, Bloomberg estimates.
Bettencourt Meyers wasn't the only French billionaire to see their net worth grow last year. The personal fortunes of French billionaires have grown at more than twice the pace of American and Chinese billionaires in the first half of 2019, Business Insider reported in July.
Growing Chinese demand for luxury goods rose the share prices of Bernard Arnault's LVMH and Francois Pinault's Kering adding to each of their fortunes. Arnault's net worth grew $5.1 billion (R76 billion) between October 9 and 11 alone, Forbes reported.
Bettencourt Meyers hasn't kept all that money to herself. She was among the French billionaires who pledged almost $1 billion (R15 billion) after Notre Dame burned in April 2019.
Bettencourt Meyers herself pledged to give $226 million (R3.3 billion) to repair the Parisian church, Business Insider reported.
Notre Dame officials questioned the pledges in June, saying at a press conference that the group of billionaires had paid "not a cent," Business Insider reported. "They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees' salaries," the cathedral's senior press official Andre Finot said.
Bettencourt Meyers is also the president of The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, the charity she cofounded in the 1980s, according to its website. The Foundation issues grants to support research in the life sciences and arts projects.
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