Former leader of L'Oréal 'deserved' his €100m gift

British businessman who drove cosmetics firm to the top regrets that payment was kept secret

Paris

The retiring British boss of L’Oréal has a simple message for those who criticise a €100m gift that he received from Liliane Bettencourt, the chief shareholder in the French multinational.

Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones – the man who built L’Oréal into the world’s dominant cosmetics company – says that he was given the money “because I’m worth it”.

Sir Lindsay, 67, retired today as the honorary boss of L’Oréal after spending 44 years with the company, rising from a shampoo salesman to chief executive and then president. For two decades, he was the most successful British businessman in the world but scarcely known in Britain.

Between 1984 and 2005, under his leadership, L’Oréal increased profits by a double-digit figure each year and quadrupled global sales.

After he stepped down to become honorary president in 2006, his golden reputation was tarnished, in some people’s eyes, by his marginal role in the “Bettencourt Affair”:  a family quarrel which turned into an explosive political scandal.

The affair began in 2008 when Liliane Bettencourt’s daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, accused a society photographer, of taking advantage of her octogenarian mother’s feeble state of mind to extract €1bn in “gifts”.

The photographer, François-Marie Banier, 65, has since been formally accused of abusing Ms Bettencourt’s mental weakness. So has the former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is accused of taking illicit campaign funds from Ms Bettencourt, the daughter of L’Oréal’s founder.

In an attempt to defend his actions, the photographer revealed in 2009 that Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones had also received a “gift” of €100m after tax from France’s wealthiest woman.

In a rare press interview, with Le Monde, Sir Lindsay has now publicly defended for the first time his decision to accept this gift in 2003. “I was enormously proud to be rewarded by people I had helped to enrich,” he said. “I deserved the money. We had just liquidated the arrangement tying Nestlé to the Bettencourts, which vastly increased the value of the family’s [L’Oréal] holdings. The Bettencourts wanted to make me part of their good fortune… They wanted to make the gift to allow me to become a large shareholder in L’Oréal.”

With hindsight, he said he now “regretted” that the gift had been concealed from the public and from Nestlé, the second biggest shareholder in L’Oréal. “Ten years ago, that kind of thing was not as hyper-sensitive as it is now,” he said.

Sir Lindsay is certainly right to claim the Bettencourt fortune – estimated at around €8bn – is largely his creation. In the 1990s L’Oréal’s share price increased by 1,100 per cent.

He studied at Oxford and at the Parisian business school, the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires. Upon graduation, he joined L’Oréal as a trainee manager and was selling, among other things, shampoo to municipal baths in Normandy. Sir Lindsay rose rapidly to become chief executive in 1984.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?