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LVMH's Antoine Arnault takes up group image as heirs flex muscle
[PARIS] By putting his son Antoine in charge of image and communication, 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.
Arnault sent a memo to employees on June 1 announcing Antoine's new responsibilities, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg News. In it, 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 mandate of Nicolas Bazire, a longtime Arnault deputy working on business development and acquisitions.
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 with the help of star designers like John Galliano and Marc Jacobs.
When it comes to the future of LVMH, Arnault has made it clear that family comes first: Antoine, who turns 41 Monday, was already CEO of shoes-and-custom suiting brand Berluti and chairman of Italian fine wool specialist Loro Piana, roles he will continue to perform. His sister Delphine, 43, is executive vice president at Louis Vuitton.
In late 2016, Arnault's son Alexandre was named co-CEO of German luggage maker Rimowa at the age of 24, and he's 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 -- Arnault's alma mater.
In a deal announced last April, Arnault 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 Arnault, who is 69 and 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, and many consumers outside of France have never heard of it. In the social media age, and a year after LVMH surpassed Total SA to become France's most valuable company by market cap, Arnault sees that changing.
"[LVMH's] success attracts growing attention from the media, observers, public authorities, as well as the general public," he wrote in the memo. "To address this increased exposure and further enhance the evaluation of the Group's achievements, I have decided to strengthen the organization of our communication."
Over the past year, Antoine has become increasingly visible at the group level by leading discussions that led to a pact with luxury rival Kering to crack down on the use of ultra-thin and underage models, as well as signing on to represent LVMH on a public-private task force on women's professional equality organized by the French government.
"We need to be more transparent. We can't do everything in secret anymore," Antoine Arnault said at a conference in Brussels last fall, adding that the desire for a more open company was shared among the younger generation at LVMH.