Growing family presence in LVMH

PARIS • Family is a good fit for LVMH it seems.

By putting his son Antoine in charge of image and communication, Mr 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.

He sent a memo last Friday announcing Antoine's new responsibilities. In it, he said 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 focus.

Communications had previously been the mandate of Mr Nicolas Bazire, a long-time Arnault deputy working on business development and acquisitions.

Mr Arnault became France's richest man by buying European heritage brands, often from founding families, and scaling them up and revamping their image with designers such as John Galliano and Marc Jacobs.

When it comes to the future of LVMH, Mr Arnault has made it clear that family comes first.

Antoine, 41, was already chief executive of shoes-and-custom suiting brand Berluti and chairman of Italian fine wool specialist Loro Piana, roles he will still perform.

His sister Delphine, 43, is executive vice-president at Louis Vuitton.

In late 2016, brother Alexandre was named co-chief executive of German luggage-maker Rimowa at 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 watch-maker Tag Heuer last year upon graduating from the elite Ecole Polytechnique - Mr Arnault's alma mater.

In a deal announced last April, Mr Arnault paid about US$13 billion (S$17 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 Mr Arnault, who is 69 and both chairman and CEO.

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 have never heard of it.

In the social media age, and a year after LVMH surpassed oil-and-gas giant Total to become France's most valuable company by market capitalisation, Mr Arnault sees that changing.

"LVMH's success attracts growing attention from media, observers, public authorities, as well as the 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 organisation 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 organised by the French government.

"We need to be more transparent. We can't do everything in secret anymore," Antoine said at a conference in Brussels last autumn, adding that the desire for a more open company was shared among the younger generation at LVMH.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2018, with the headline 'Growing family presence in LVMH'. Print Edition | Subscribe