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The richest woman in the world

For the fourth year in a row, L’Oréal heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers—an author and avid pianist—has secured the spot as the richest woman in the world.

The vast majority of the 70-year-old’s estimated $99.5 billion fortune lies in the nearly 35% stake in French beauty giant L’Oréal Group that she owns with her husband and two sons. Bettencourt Meyers is vice chairwoman of the company and has sat on L’Oréal’s board since 1997.

She is $19 billion richer this year after L’Oréal’s share price rose 20%, making her the biggest gainer, in dollar-terms, of any woman on World Billionaires list this year. Bettencourt Meyers hovers right below the 14 members of the $100 billion club, a half-billion dollars away from joining that elite cohort herself.

The granddaughter of L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller—the Parisian man behind the invention of hair dye that was safe to use—Bettencourt Meyers made her first appearance on Forbes’ rank of the world’s wealthiest in 2018, then worth an estimated $42.2 billion following the death of her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, in 2017.

Since her debut, the company’s share price has soared 150% and her fortune has more than doubled.

L’Oréal is one of the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty companies, with $44 billion (41 billion Euros) in 2023 revenue from three dozen brands, including Maybelline, Kiehl’s and Lancôme.

The 115-year-old company has hardly grayed; it stays touched-up via acquisitions and trendy advertising.

Last summer, L’Oréal completed the acquisition of Australian beauty brand Aesop in a deal that valued the brand at $2.5 billion—adding to its luxe beauty category, which includes brands like Yves Saint Laurent and Armani Beauty.

Kendall Jenner was also named a global face of the brand in July, the newest addition to a star-studded roster of ambassadors that includes Viola Davis and Kate Winslet.

Despite reigning over such a high-profile empire, Bettencourt Meyers shuns the spotlight. She’s been described as more inconspicuous and academic than socialite.

She is said to play piano for several hours a day and has authored two books, one with commentary on the bible and another on Greek gods. Still, Bettencourt Meyers’ rise to the ranks of the world’s richest did not come about quietly.

She made headlines in 2007, when she filed a criminal complaint against François-Marie Banier, a longtime family friend and celebrity photographer. She alleged he manipulated her ailing mother out of more than $1 billion in art, cash, real estate and other gifts.

The trial ended with a guilty verdict and a three-year prison sentence; on appeal, Banier received a four-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay a fine of roughly $420,000. The ordeal also left a very public rift between the L’Oréal aristocrat and her daughter.

In 2011, Bettencourt Meyers was appointed by a court as her mother’s legal guardian after the late heiress was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Since joining the World’s Billionaires list, Bettencourt Meyers has continued to expand her fortune. She chairs the family holding company, Téthys Invest, through which she has backed numerous projects, including French private hospital operator Elsan.

The Paris resident is also president of her family’s Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, which encourages French progress in the sciences and arts, giving money and awards to projects related to social progress.