France has a new billionaire at the top of its 2008 richest list. Gérard Mulliez, founder of retail giant Auchan, topped the latest annual ranking by the business magazine Challenges, which hit newsstands Thursday. He bumped Bernard Arnault from the top spot, but the luxury titan still got the cover, smiling broadly and flanked by his daughter, Delphine, and son, Antoine.

This story first appeared in the July 11, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Mulliez’s fortune has ballooned from 5.5 billion euros in 1996 to 21 billion euros in 2007. Besides Auchan hypermarkets, Mulliez’s group has stakes in home-improvement retailer Leroy Merlin, sports chain Decathlon and cataloguer 3 Suisses. Arnault’s fortune shed 18 percent to 18.31 billion euros from the 2007 Challenges ranking due to a drop in the value of shares of LVMH and Carrefour, of which he controls 47 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

L’Oréal founder Liliane Bettencourt and her family, with a fortune of 13.58 billion euros, held steady at number three. Bertrand Puech and the Hermès family, which control 72 percent of Hermès International, also held on at number six with a fortune estimated at 7.42 billion euros. François Pinault and family fell to seventh place from number four, with a fortune of 7.33 billion euros due to a drop in PPR’s stock price. Also making the top 10, a jump from 16th place last year, is Chanel owner Alain Wertheimer and family, with a fortune of 5 billion euros.

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