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LVMH boss puts son in charge of company's image, communications

Paris

BY PUTTING his son Antoine in charge of image and communications, Bernard Arnault is sending a powerful message: LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods maker, needs to make room in its executive ranks for the owner's family.

The elder Arnault sent a memo to employees on June 1 announcing his son's new responsibilities. In a copy of the memo seen by Bloomberg News, he stresses the importance of the role, saying his son will be in charge of managing the "growing attention" in the company from the media and public, and pointing to social media as an area of particular focus.

Communications had previously been the job of Nicolas Bazire, a long-time Arnault deputy.

Mr Arnault became France's richest man by buying up European heritage brands, often from their founding families, and scaling them up with his team of trusted deputies, as well as revamping their image.

When it comes to the future of LVMH, Mr Arnault has made it clear that family comes first: His son, who turns 41 Monday, was already chief executive of shoes-and-custom-suiting brand Berluti and chairman of Italian fine wool specialist Loro Piana; he will continue to perform these roles. His sister Delphine, 43, is executive vice-president at Louis Vuitton.

In late 2016, another of Mr Arnault's sons Alexandre was named co-CEO of German luggage maker Rimowa at the age of 24. He has since become an outspoken champion of improving LMVH's digital marketing and e-commerce efforts; younger brother Frederic, 23, became head of "connected technologies" for watchmaker Tag Heuer last year, upon graduating from the elite Ecole Polytechnique.

In a deal announced last April, the tycoon paid about US$13 billion to buy out minority shareholders in his Christian Dior holding company, raising the family's controlling stake in LVMH to as much as 46 per cent. Any movements at the group are closely watched for clues of who will eventually take over from the now-69-year-old, who is both chairman and CEO. LVMH declined to comment on the memo.

While the group's stable of 70 high-end brands and retailers are among the world's most visible - they include Louis Vuitton fashion, Sephora cosmetics and Moet et Chandon champagne - parent company LVMH itself has managed to stay in the shadows. Many consumers outside of France have never heard of it.

Mr Arnault sees that changing. He wrote in the memo: "Success attracts growing attention from the media, observers, public authorities, as well as the general public. To address this increased exposure and further enhance the evaluation of the group's achievements, I have decided to strengthen the organisation of our communications."

Over the past year, the younger Arnault has become increasingly visible at the group level; he has, for example, led discussions that led to a pact with luxury rival Kering to crack down on the use of ultra-thin and underage models. BLOOMBERG

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