In 1837, French businessman Thierry Hermès founded the company that bears his surname as a harness and saddle workshop for European nobles. He could not have imagined that, almost two centuries later, this company would not only still be standing, but become a luxury fashion brand that sells its goods to international stars like Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Jennifer Lopez. The Hermès company has annual profits of €11.6 billion ($12,483,862,000) and is worth 202 billion on the stock market; it has brought prosperity to successive generations of the founder’s family for decades without attracting attention. Until now, that is. Nicolas Puech, a fifth-generation descendant and the company’s first shareholder, has announced that he wants to adopt his gardener and make him the heir to his fortune.
Single and childless, Puech, 80, retired from the legendary fashion brand’s board of directors in 2014, but still holds a 5.7% stake in the company. In fact, in the early 2010s, the LVMH firm tried to take control of the company, so the founding family’s heirs decided to create a holding company to block the takeover. Puech was the only one who did not join it; he is also the only one who kept his shares. As a result, he has a fortune estimated at between 9 and 10 billion Swiss francs (between €9.5 and €10.6 billion, or $10,223,852,500 to $11,407,137,000). According to the Bilan magazine ranking, he is one of the richest men in Switzerland, where he currently resides in his luxurious mansion in La Fouly, a municipality of 66 inhabitants. Now, Peuch intends for his fortune to go to his “former gardener and handyman,” whose identity is unknown; however, according to the Tribune de Genève, we do know that he is a 51-year-old man “from a modest Moroccan family.”
On December 1, Swiss media reported that, given his advanced age and childlessness, the tycoon had sent a letter to his lawyer in October 2022 to put his inheritance situation in order. In the missive, Puech asked for the adoption to take place in order to leave his fortune to his gardener, who is known to be married to a Spanish woman and the father of two children. “In Switzerland, adopting an adult is not impossible, but it is unusual,” the Tribune de Genéve noted. According to its report, the process is still in progress, but if successful the beneficiary could inherit “at least half” of Peuch’s fortune.
Still, adoption is not the main stumbling block to honoring Puech’s wishes. He himself reportedly signed a succession agreement in 2011 with the Geneva-based Isocrates Foundation to donate his fortune to them after his death. However, in a handwritten note dated February 2023, reviewed by the Swiss daily, the billionaire “changed course” and explained that he “intends to make other testamentary arrangements,” without specifying the reasons for his change of heart.
When contacted by the AFP news agency, the foundation, which focuses on protecting and promoting public debate through projects to combat disinformation, admitted that it had just learned of its former chairman’s desire to annul the succession agreement, but it was unaware of any alternative agreement. After learning of the Hermès heir’s new plans, in an interview with Swiss media the foundation’s secretary general, Nicolas Borsinger, referred to them as a “sudden and unilateral annulment of a succession agreement, done through an act that must be considered null and void.” The foundation laments that “its activities for the public good” are “threatened in their sustainability” by circumstances “that are completely beyond its control.”
Meanwhile, Puech’s gardener remains silent, anonymous and ever closer to becoming a multimillionaire. According to figures published by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he will be able to collect some €40 million ($43,048,200,000) a year in dividends alone.
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