LONDON — When it finally comes, Rose Marie Bravo's goodbye to Burberry Group plc will be a difficult one.
Burberry shares fell 4.83 percent Thursday, closing at 4.04 pounds, or $7.19, down from the previous day's 4.24 pounds, or $7.55, on reports that Bravo, who engineered the company's turnaround, would step down as chief executive officer when her contract expires in July.
Although Burberry has still not confirmed the reports, and a company spokesman reiterated Thursday that Bravo's role would continue to "evolve" within the firm, financial analysts were already voicing their views.
"This is disappointing news as Bravo has been instrumental to the hugely successful repositioning of the Burberry brand since her arrival in 1997," said Citigroup's Constanza Mardones in a research note Thursday.
"However, Bravo is likely to be succeeded by the highly respected Brian Blake…and it is likely to be an orderly handover as Bravo will not leave the group until July next year and could remain with Burberry in another capacity," the note added.
Other analysts weren't so upbeat.
One London-based analyst who requested anonymity said Burberry is entering a "tricky period" with regard to its fashion offer. "The Burberry check, which has been a cash cow for so long, is not as fashionable as it once was. And Burberry is more fashion-dependent than other luxury goods companies."
Blake, who was part of Domenico De Sole's turnaround team at Gucci and who joined Burberry as worldwide president and chief operating officer in 2004, is widely tipped to replace Bravo.
He left Gucci in early 2004 along with De Sole and former creative director Tom Ford. Blake had been with Gucci for 17 years, and his last post there was executive vice president of the group.
Blake has global oversight of Burberry's wholesale, retail, licensing and manufacturing operations. He was appointed to the Burberry board in November.
On that board, Blake sits alongside Bravo and Stacey Cartwright, Burberry's chief financial officer and the architect behind the company's massive information technology overhaul, known as Project Atlas.
Cartwright, who was previously chief financial officer at Egg plc, a publicly listed financial services provider, has also been tipped as a possible replacement for Bravo.Some industry sources downplayed the impact of Bravo's potential departure. "Burberry is a well-oiled machine, and it's not going to collapse because of a change in leadership," one source said.
As for Bravo's future, most observers predicted the fashion dynamo, whose energy, charm and razor-sharp instincts were instrumental in turning the brand around, won't sit still for long.
"She is a walking wellspring of information and opinions on the industry, and she has tremendous experience and a lot of interests. She can take her pick of what she wants to do," said one source who knows her well.
In other Burberry news, the firm announced a 10-year eyewear licensing agreement with Luxottica Group. The license is for the design, production and worldwide distribution of prescription frames and sunglasses under the Burberry name.
The agreement will begin on Jan. 1 and the first collections will be presented next October. The two companies said they expect the new eyewear collection to generate wholesale sales in excess of 50 million euros, or $61 million, annually within two to three years of the launch.
Earlier in the day, Burberry confirmed its license deal with Safilo Group for the manufacture and distribution of Burberry eyewear would expire on Dec. 31 in accordance with its terms.
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