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Meet Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, First Woman With $100B Fortune

Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, the L'Oréal heiress and richest woman in the world became the first woman to hold a $100 billion fortune as of December 28.

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Tanya Savkoor
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Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, the L'Oréal heiress and richest woman in the world became the first woman to hold a $100 billion fortune as of December 28, according to a Bloomberg report. The 70-year-old is the 12th richest person in the world, one position above India's Mukesh Ambani. Bettencourt-Meyers owns about 34% of L'Oréal's stocks. The company's shares have been ever-towering since the pandemic and were up by 29% in just the first half of 2023, as reported by Forbes.

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The L'Oreal corporation owns mass-market brands like L'Oréal, Maybelline, Essie, and Garnier, as well as high-end beauty companies like Urban Decay, Lancôme, and Kiehl's. L'Oréal also licenses the beauty divisions of luxury fashion houses including Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino. They made more than $42 billion in sales in 2022, according to company reports.

Who Is Françoise Bettencourt Meyers?

As a child, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers was not particularly inclined to the glamorous socialite lifestyle she was raised in. She was a single child and much rather preferred staying indoors with her trusted books and piano. But as the granddaughter of the founder of L'Oréal, the world's current largest cosmetics empire, fortune and fame were bound to follow her.

Bettencourt-Meyers continued to follow her childhood passion for writing well into adulthood. She was influenced by her strict Catholic upbringing and has written books on topics ranging from Greek mythology to Judaism and Catholicism. Her most recent book, a Biblical commentary entitled "Regard sur la Bible," was published in 2008.

Bettencourt-Meyers is married to Jean-Pierre Meyers, the CEO of French spirits producer Tethys SAS, and a board member of Nestle. The couple has two adult sons, Jean-Victor and Nicolas. Jean-Victor is also on L'Oreal's board of directors.

Bettencourt-Meyers has dedicated some of her billions to philanthropy. In April 2019 she was among French billionaires who pledged millions after Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. She donated about $226 million for the repair of the cathedral. She is also the president of the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation, the charity she cofounded in the 1980s, which grants to support research in the life sciences and arts projects.

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Bettencourt-Meyers' inheritance came after her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, died in 2017. However, their mother-daughter relationship was not as smooth as it appears.

Years of Family Feuds and Legal Battles

Since Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers was a teenager, her relationship with her mother was troubled. Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of L'Oréal founder, Eugene Schueller, had inherited the company in 1957 and detested her daughter's disinterest in their lifestyle. She openly called her daughter a "cold child" and "always a lap behind me," in media interviews.

Their relationship got more sour when Bettencourt-Meyers filed a lawsuit against her mother's friend, Photographer Francois-Marie Banier, alleging he manipulated her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia, into giving him a part of her assets. Bettencourt-Meyers alleged Banier's objective was to break away her mother from their family to profit from her. Liliane Bettencourt disputed her daughter's allegations and stated that she willingly gave him the share.

During the trial, Liliane Bettencourt told the media in 2008 that she was not on talking terms with her daughter anymore, and did not wish to see her. "For me, my daughter has become something inert," she said. In 2011, Liliane Bettencourt was placed under the guardianship of her family due to concerns over her declining mental health.

The case went to trial in 2015, and Banier was convicted of "abus de faiblesse," or "abuse of weakness." He was sentenced to two and half years in prison and told to pay Liliane Bettencourt 158 million euros in damages. The jail sentence and payment were later reversed in an appeal.

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Bettencourt-Meyers was later accused by Banier, of bribing a witness. An investigation against Bettencourt-Meyers took place in 2015, in which she 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.

Drudged Up Family Secrets

During the lawsuit, many family secrets that were long forgotten had been dug up against Bettencourt-Meyers' grandfather and father's alleged pro-Nazi stance during World War II.

Eugene Schueller had publicly commended Adolf Hitler's "dynamism" during the war and was also a member of a secret society that was linked to multiple murders and bombings in the 1930s. At the same time, André Bettencourt, Bettencourt-Meyers' father, wrote anti-Semitic diatribes for the pro-German press, though he switched his allegiances and joined the Resistance. He was later decorated for his military service during World War II and went on to serve in the French government. 

Bettencourt-Meyers comes from a notable lineage and is presently the leading businesswoman in the world. She is followed by Julia Koch of Koch Industries, Alice Walton of Walmart, and Jacqueline Mars of Mars, Inc.

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