Liliane Bettencourt is a French businesswoman, socialite, French Heiress and philanthropist. She is also well-known as one of the majority shareholders of L’Oreal and Nestle. With a net worth of US$23.5 billion, Bettencourt is one of the richest people of the world.
Bettencourt was born in Paris, France to the founder of the world’s biggest beauty and cosmetics company, Eugene Schueller. She started working for her father’s company from the age of 15. Her job was simple, she had to label shampoo bottles and mix cosmetics but this gave her an insight into the ways of business from a young age. Bettencourt married the French cabinet minister Andre Bettencourt in 1950 who later also served as the Deputy Chairman of L’Oreal. She inherited the fortune of her father which also included the company L’Oreal. After it went public in 1963, Liliane Bettencourt had the majority of the shares to herself. In 1974 however she exchanged half of these for a 3% share in Nestle in the fear that her company would get nationalized. Bettencourt became the member of the Board of Directors in 1995.
Bettencourt and her husband established the ‘Foundation Schueller-Bettencourt’ that supports cultural, medical and humanitarian ventures. With an annual budget of £160 million, the foundation also devotes its resources to scientific research, education and cultural and art based projects. This philanthropic venture is one of her biggest achievements. Although Bettencourt does not like public appearances and media attention, she has been part of many controversies and notorious headlines. The infamous ‘L’affaire Bettencourt’ involved her relationship with French artist, photographer and writer François-Marie Banier after he photographed her for the magazine ‘Egoiste’. The rendezvous turned to friendship followed by a series of highly expensive gifts to François which included life insurance policies worth €253 million and €262 in 2003 and 2006 respectively, art work worth €20 million and cash. Bettencourt’s daughter filed a report against François in which she accused him of exploiting her mother’s psychological and physical weakness for his own gains. It turned out that Bettencourt had made François her heir. In 2010 the case ended with Bettencourt reconciling with her daughter and writing off François from her will.
Liliane Bettencourt was also a victim of the Ponzi scheme by Bernard Madoff in which she lost € 22 million. In June 2011 her daughter filed an application that Bettencourt now 90 could no longer manage her fortune due to a declining mental health. Four months later Bettencourt was ordered to be placed under the guardianship of her family members. Francoise, Bettencourt’s daughter along with three of her grandsons were to control the property and wealth. However the case has not ended as Bettencourt’s lawyer has appealed again.
Despite alleged charges and political charges, Liliane Bettencourt is a role model for young entrepreneurs. She is on number 15th in Forbes list of the world’s richest people with a fortune of approximately US$23.5 billion. She is Europe’s richest woman and the second richest in the world. She was ranked amongst the world’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine in 2005.