An heir to the Hermès fortune, Nicolas Puech's money was supposed to go to a charity he founded, but the billionaire changed his mind this year.
A reclusive fifth-generation descendant of one of Europe’s richest families has reportedly made the bold — and controversial — decision to cut ties with a charity he founded. The 80-year-old Nicolas Puech initially planned to leave most of his fortune to the charity, but earlier this year, in February 2023, he decided to adopt his 51-year-old former gardener and bequeath him billions instead.
Puech, the childless, secretive, and somewhat mysterious descendant of Thierry Hermès, who founded the luxury handbag brand Hermès in 1837, has reportedly started the process of adopting his unnamed gardener, entitling the man to a major portion of Puech’s estimated $11.5 billion fortune.
Little is known of Puech’s ties to his former gardener, or how long the man had been under Puech’s employ. According to the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Genève, the gardener is of Moroccan origin, is married to a woman of Spanish origin, and the couple have two kids together. And Puech apparently calls the man and his family members his “adopted son” and “children.”
Other than that, details about the man are scarce. But Puech’s decision has caused quite a stir with the Isocrates Foundation, the charity that he founded in 2011, which was originally supposed to receive his fortune.
Per The Guardian, the foundation announced in December 2023 that it has formally “opposed” Puech’s decision to change the inheritance plan.
Puech had previously signed a “succession agreement” with the charity, entitling it to his inheritance upon his death — unless he became a father, in which case half of Puech’s inheritance would be bequeathed to his child.
The foundation was created to fund “the protection and promotion of public debate” and “public interest journalism and media organizations committed to strengthening the field of investigative journalism.”
The foundation has a board of six people, with Puech acting as its president.
“From a legal standpoint, the abrupt and unilateral annulment of a succession agreement appears void and unfounded,” the foundation stated. “The foundation has opposed this move, while leaving the door open to discussion with its founder and president.”
Puech’s lawyer, Jörn-Albert Bostelmann, declined to comment on any specifics to multiple media outlets, but he did tell Bloomberg that he may hold a press conference “to separate the fact from the fiction and to dispel some of the nonsense that has been reported in the media.”
Although Puech had become an outcast from his family years ago amidst a tense corporate battle that his other relatives took up against the rival luxury group LVMH — without Puech’s help — he is still estimated to own roughly 5.7 percent of Hermès’ shares.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, renewed demand for Hermès’ luxury handbags and silk scarves saw the company’s valuation skyrocket, now estimated to be $230.8 billion. So even though Puech is not nearly as involved in the company as he used to be, he is still estimated to be worth $11.5 billion.
Anyone familiar with fashion will not be surprised that the Hermès family is one of the wealthiest on Earth. Not only does the company sell some of the world’s most expensive handbags — with some in the five-figure or even six-figure price range — but the company also has a rich history of using high-quality materials and eye-popping designs.
The company was founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès and began as a harness and bridle workshop in Paris’ Grands Boulevards neighborhood. The business was dedicated to serving European nobles, and became notable for its high-quality harnesses and bridles.
When Hermès’ son Charles-Émile took over the business, he moved the shop to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and the headquarters remains there to this day. The company continued to supply high-quality goods for carriages and riders, and it also introduced saddlery.
The shop continued to grow under Charles-Émile’s two sons, Adolphe and Émile-Maurice. According to Fashion In Time, however, Adolphe eventually left the business, believing that it would not succeed as the introduction of the automobile would inevitably make riding gear less sought after.
Émile-Maurice, now the sole owner of the business, agreed, but decided to pivot the company in a new direction. He patented a new type of zipper, known as the Hermès Fastener, which made a splash with multiple clothing lines. And in 1922, he introduced the brand’s first leather handbag, securing the business’ place in the market in France and beyond.
The decision evidently paid off, as Hermès is still flourishing today.
While Puech has not had any official role in the business since 2014, it’s clear that the business’ extensive success has provided him with quite the fortune — and now, perhaps some of that money will be shared with his gardener.
After reading about this surprising transference of wealth, read about the time a German widow left her neighbors a $7.5 million fortune. Then, learn about Charles Feeney, the billionaire who vowed to give away his fortune before he died.