Born: October 21, 1922
Born Place: Paris, France
Died: September 21, 2017
Death Place: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Net Worth: US$ 44.9 billion (September 2017)
Spouse: André Bettencourt (m. 1950; d. 2007)
Occupation: Principal shareholder of L’Oréal
Liliane Henriette Charlotte Bettencourt (21 October 1922 – 21 September 2017) was a French heiress, socialite and businesswoman. She was one of the principal shareholders of L’Oréal.
At the time of her death, she was the richest woman, and the 14th richest person in the world, with a net worth of US$44.3 billion.
She was born Liliane Henriette Charlotte Schueller on 21 October 1922 in Paris, the only child of Louise Madeleine Berthe (née Doncieux) and Eugène Schueller, the founder of L’Oréal, one of the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty companies. When Liliane was five years old, her mother died, and she formed a close bond with her father, who later married Liliane’s British governess. At the age of 15, she joined her father’s company as an apprentice, mixing cosmetics and labelling bottles of shampoo.
In 1950, she married French politician André Bettencourt, who served as a cabinet minister in French governments of the 1960s and 1970s and rose to become deputy chairman of L’Oréal. Mr. Bettencourt had been a member of La Cagoule, a violent French fascist pro-Nazi group that Liliane’s father, a Nazi sympathizer, had funded and supported in the 1930s and whose members were arrested in 1937. After the war, her husband, like other members of La Cagoule, was given refuge at L’Oréal despite his politically inconvenient past. Eventually, the Bettencourts settled in an Art Moderne mansion built in 1951 on rue de Delabordère in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. They had one daughter, Françoise, who was born in 1953.
In 1957, Bettencourt inherited the L’Oréal fortune when her father died, becoming the principal shareholder. In 1963, the company went public, although Bettencourt continued to own a majority stake. In 1974, in fear that the company would be nationalised after the French elections, she exchanged almost half of her stake for a three percent (3%) stake in Nestlé S.A.
As of December 2012, Bettencourt owned 185,661,879 (30.5%) of the outstanding shares of L’Oréal, of which 76,441,389 (12.56%) shares are effectively held in trust (for her daughter). The remainder is owned as follows: 178,381,021 (29.78%) shares owned by Nestlé, 229,933,941 (37.76%) shares are publicly held, and the remainder are held as treasury stock or in the company savings plan. The Bettencourt family and Nestlé act in concert pursuant to a shareholders’ agreement. Bettencourt ended her Board Director tenure on 13 February 2012 and her grandson, Jean-Victor, was appointed as Board Director. Bettencourt’s daughter and her daughter’s husband (Jean-Pierre Meyers) are also members of the board of directors.
Bettencourt generally shunned media attention and granted few interviews. From 2007, she faced intense media scrutiny and publicity over her relationship with François-Marie Banier, the estrangement with her daughter Françoise and her alleged funding of conservative French politicians, including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. In August 2012, she sold her private island, D’Arros Island, to a Seychelles-registered conservation business linked to the Swiss Save our Seas Foundation, for £60 million.
Bettencourt died on 21 September 2017. The funeral service was held at Église Saint-Pierre in Neuilly-sur-Seine.
In 1987, Bettencourt, together with her husband and daughter, founded the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation (la Fondation Bettencourt Schueller) to support and develop medical, cultural and humanitarian projects. The Foundation is based in Neuilly-sur-Seine. The Foundation, which benefits from assets of €150 million and an annual budget of approx €15 million devotes approximately 55% of its funds to scientific education and research, 33% to humanitarian and social projects and 12% to culture and arts.
In 2008, the Foundation helped fund the new Monet wing at the Musée Marmottan Monet. Conversely, in 2007 Bettencourt was jointly “awarded” a Black Planet Award, an award given for destroying the planet, along with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe for proliferating contaminated baby food, monopolising water resources, and tolerating child labour.
In June 2010, during the Bettencourt affair, Bettencourt became embroiled in a high-level French political scandal after other details of the tape recordings made by her butler became public. The tapes allegedly picked up conversations between Bettencourt and her financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre, which indicate that Bettencourt may have avoided paying taxes by keeping a substantial amount of cash in undeclared Swiss bank accounts. The tapes also allegedly captured a conversation between Bettencourt and French budget minister Éric Woerth, who was soliciting a job for his wife managing Bettencourt’s wealth, while running a high-profile campaign to catch wealthy tax evaders as the budget minister. Moreover, Bettencourt received a €30 million tax rebate while Woerth was budget minister.
In July 2010, the scandal widened after Bettencourt’s former accountant, Claire Thibout, alleged in an interview with the French investigative website Mediapart, that conservative French politicians were frequently given envelopes stuffed with cash at Bettencourt’s mansion in Neuilly-sur-Seine. She alleged that Woerth, while acting as treasurer for the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), was given an envelope containing €150,000 in cash in March 2007 towards the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy. She also made, then retracted, a claim that Sarkozy was a frequent visitor to the Bettencourt’s home while he was mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine from 1983 to 2002 and received envelopes containing cash. A few days later, she declared she had been pressured by French police to retract her testimony about Nicolas Sarkozy’s illegal cash. Mr Sarkozy and Mr Woerth both deny wrongdoing. Following these allegations, French police raided the home and office of de Maistre, who heads Clymène, the company owned by Bettencourt to manage her wealth. French law limits political donations to €7,500 for political parties and €4,600 for individuals. Contributions above €150 must be paid by cheque with the donor clearly identified.