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
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all