Nicolas Puech, a billionaire descendant of the founder of the luxury fashion house Hermès, has made a surprising decision to adopt his former gardener and make him his heir. The 80-year-old tycoon, who owns 5.7% of Hermès shares, plans to leave half of his €12 billion fortune to the 51-year-old man, who is married with two children. The move has sparked a legal dispute with a charity that Puech had previously agreed to fund.
A generous gesture or a family feud?
Puech is a fifth-generation descendant of Thierry Hermès, who established the company in 1837 as a harness and saddle workshop for European nobles. Today, Hermès is one of the most prestigious and profitable luxury brands in the world, known for its iconic Birkin bags, scarves, and perfumes. The company has a market value of €204 billion and an annual profit of €11.6 billion.
Puech, who is single and childless, retired from the company’s supervisory board in 2014, but still holds a significant stake in the company. He is also one of the richest men in Switzerland, where he lives in a luxurious mansion in La Fouly, a small village in the Alps.
According to Swiss media reports, Puech has begun the legal process of formally adopting his former gardener and handyman, whose identity has not been revealed. The man is of Moroccan origin and is married to a Spanish woman. They have two children, whom Puech reportedly calls his “children” and “adopted son”.
Puech intends to leave at least half of his fortune to his gardener, as well as some of his properties in Switzerland, Morocco, and France. The total value of these assets is estimated at €6 million.
The reason behind Puech’s generous gesture is not clear, but some speculate that it may be related to a family feud that erupted in 2014, when the rival fashion group LVMH tried to take over Hermès by stealthily acquiring 23% of its shares. The founding family’s heirs decided to create a holding company to block the takeover, but Puech was the only one who did not join it and kept his shares. He was then “beleaguered by members of his family, who have attacked him on several fronts,” according to his representative.
A legal battle with a charity
Puech’s decision to adopt his gardener and make him his heir has also triggered a legal battle with a charity that he founded in 2011. The Isocrates Foundation, which aims to promote and protect public debate and investigative journalism, announced that it has formally opposed Puech’s move to cancel a succession agreement that he had signed with the foundation.
The foundation said that it was not in a position to judge the process or context of Puech’s adoption plan, but that it considered the annulment of the succession agreement to be “void and unfounded”. The foundation said that it was under the authority and surveillance of the Swiss Federal Supervisory Board for Foundations, and that it was open to discussion with its founder and president .
The succession agreement, which was signed in 2011, stipulated that Puech would leave part of his fortune to the foundation after his death, in order to support its activities and projects. The foundation said that it had received regular donations from Puech until 2022, but that they had stopped since then .
The legal dispute between Puech and the foundation is expected to last for several months, if not years, as the Swiss law on adult adoption and inheritance is complex and unusual. Puech may also face challenges from his relatives, who may claim a share of his estate .
A rare case of philanthropy or eccentricity?
Puech’s plan to adopt his gardener and leave him billions has attracted worldwide attention and curiosity, as it is a rare case of philanthropy or eccentricity among the super-rich. According to a study by UBS, a global financial services company, there are more than 2,000 billionaires in the world, with a combined wealth of $10.2 trillion. However, only a few of them have pledged to give away most of their fortune to charitable causes, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg .
Puech’s gardener, who may soon become one of the richest men in the world, has not commented on his benefactor’s decision. He is said to be a humble and discreet person, who lives a simple life with his family. He has worked for Puech for more than 20 years, and has developed a close relationship with him. Puech reportedly treats him as a son, and has helped him financially and personally in the past .
Puech, who is known to be a secretive and solitary person, has not explained his motives or intentions publicly. He may hold a press conference in the future to clarify his decision and to dispel some of the rumors and speculations that have surrounded his case .