How a quiet Jewish boy came to head Nazi-tainted L'Oréal

February 23, 2012
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Dynastic makeover: Liliane Bettencourt with grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers

Dynastic makeover: Liliane Bettencourt with grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers

From one perspective, he is just a nice, ordinary Jewish boy.

Jean-Victor Meyers, 25, born into a family of successful businesspeople, was circumcised under rabbinical supervision and barmitzvah in 2000 at the Paris-MJLF Reform synagogue.

Described as "discreet" and "mature", Mr Meyers studied economics and management at the Institut Superieur de Gestion and as a teenager worked at the Red Cross.

But Mr Meyers is the grandson of Liliane Bettencourt, 89, the second richest woman in the world and head of the L'Oréal cosmetics empire - and in April he is due to take up a place on the firm's board of governors. Formal approval permitting, Mr Meyers will become the youngest board member of any CAC 40 company.

Mr Meyers will take the seat left vacant by Mrs Bettencourt, who has resigned from the board.

The history of the Meyers-Bettencourt family adds piquancy to Mr Meyers's appointment at the top table of L'Oréal. Jean-Victor's paternal grandfather, Robert Meyers, was the rabbi of Neuilly and was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943.

The company that became L'Oréal, meanwhile, was founded by Eugene Schueller, a brilliant chemist who bankrolled a group of Nazi sympathisers.

Schueller made his fortune marketing a hair dye that he invented in 1908. In 1936, Schueller founded and funded an extreme right-wing group, nicknamed La Cagoule. Its members collaborated with the Nazi regime during the Occupation. One of the Cagoule members, André Bettencourt, later married Schueller's only daughter, Liliane.

After the war, the L'Oréal company sheltered other former members of La Cagoule around the world.

Protracted and fierce legal battles between Mrs Bettencourt and her daughter, Françoise Meyers - Jean-Victor's mother - have dragged the secretive Schueller-Bettencourt family into the spotlight since 2008.

Mrs Meyers claimed that her ageing mother was dissipating the family fortune by giving away huge amounts of money to François-Marie Banier, 64, a jet-set writer and confidant of the old lady.

Mr Banier allegedly accepted over 500 million euros in cash and art pieces, together with life insurance worth another 500 million euros, from Ms Bettencourt.

When it was claimed that Mrs Bettencourt had named Mr Banier as the executor of her will, Mrs Meyers succeeded in having her mother put under the supervision of a family council.

Just before a French court enforced the supervision order, however, Mrs Bettencourt appointed her preferred grandson, Mr Meyers, to the board of the family holding company, Thetys.

According to some analysts, the aim was to ensure that her fortune would go to Jean-Victor and his brother, and not their parents.

Thus, a company once ruled by a Nazi collaborator looks set to be inherited by Jews.

    Last updated: 1:58pm, February 23 2012