Lifestyle & Belief

Forbes Billionaire's list: the European factor


European wealth, its all about lifestyle and fashion as Europe's richest man, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault can attest. That's him in the suit at a recent fashion show in Paris.


Pascal Le Segretain

The Forbes annual billionaire list may be no more than a conversation starter, but what it says about Europe is clear. This is not a place where industrialists or inventors, people who build traditional businesses, become super-rich.

Instead, it is the place where aggregators and creators of retail experiences prosper. Europe's two billionaires in the top five are France's Bernard Arnault, chairman of luxury goods firm, LVMH, worth $41 billion, and Spain's Amancio Ortega owner of the global retail outlet Zara, worth $37.5 billion.

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The other Europeans in the top ten are Sweden's Stefan Persson, chairman of cheap chic clothing chain H & M, and Germany's Karl Albrecht, whose Aldi chain of discount supermarket operates on both sides of the Atlantic.

And so it goes, makers of high end of cosmetics and luxury chocolates are the next Europeans to pop up on the list.

Then there are the property billionaires. If you're British that's how you get into the list. Three Brits are in the top 100. All make their money in property. The Duke of Westminster, whose family ultimately holds the freehold on most of central London's properties (I won't go into how British property works or how and when the Duke's family acquired them, but ultimately a percentage of every lease trickles back to him) is worth $11 billion.

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The Reuben brothers, David and Simon, worth $9 billion put together their grub stake trading Russian and Kazakh metals in the free for all following the collapse of the USSR. They then invested heavily in luxury UK property, a place where the bubble never burst.

All in all the list creates a picture of a continent whose economy is dominated by lifestyle businesses, the geo-political equivalent of the Financial Times weekend features sections, including the book review.

Speaking of which, British author JK Rowling, has dropped out of the list. The Harry Potter creator is no longer a billionaire, a fact the Daily Telegraph uses at the top of its story on the Forbes list to bemoan the high taxes in Britain. Only a little further into the piece do we learn that the main reason Rowling is no longer a billionaire is her massive charitable giving.