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PARIS — Lacoste SA’s remaining family shareholders are set to exit the maker of crocodile-logo polo shirts after a father-daughter tussle opened the door to a full takeover by Swiss retail group Maus Frères SA.
Sophie Lacoste Dournel, who was named president of the company’s non-executive board in September, said Wednesday she would not contest the decision by her estranged father Michel Lacoste and other members of the founding family to sell a 30.3 percent tranche of shares to Maus.
In addition, LacosteDournel and six other family members, who jointly retain 28 percent of the firm’s capital, have started talks with the Swiss retail firm to sell their stake under the same terms, she added.
That would give total control to Maus, which already held 35 percent of Lacoste via its Devanlay subsidiary, Lacoste’s apparel licensee. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Maus has said the deal values the sportswear maker at 1 billion to 1.25 billion euros, or $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion at current exchange.
“This has been a very difficult decision, but we are taking it in the spirit of responsibility, because it seems like the only possible decision for the good of the company today,” Lacoste Dournel told a hastily convened press conference in Paris.
She added that the family members she represents had studied the possibility of buying out Michel Lacoste’s faction, but this was impossible given the “extremely surprising” valuation of the company. “We are talking about multiples which are impossible to attain,” she noted.
In addition, bringing in a “white knight” investor would have forced the company to put profits ahead of its long-term development goals, she added.
“Bringing in a white knight at that level was extremely complicated and inevitably would have triggered a war at the shareholder level and at the operational level, the first victims of which would have been the brand and its employees,” Lacoste Dournel said.
The 36-year-old has been on the company’s board since 2005. She is part of the second generation of the family shareholder structure and is a granddaughter of founder René Lacoste, a French tennis hero and businessman who created the Lacoste tennis shirt in 1929.
Her election made headlines in France due to a conflict between some 20 members of the Lacoste family from three generations that make up the advisory board, and had owned 65 percent of Lacoste SA.
Maus Frères, controlled by the Maus and Nordmann families, has been in business since 1902 and controls the Gant, Aigle and Parashop brands. Its retail banners include Manor department stores, hardware and DIY chain Jumbo and sports retailer Athleticum.
The group posted 2011 sales of 5.3 billion Swiss francs, or $6 billion at average exchange, and employs some 22,000 people.
Lacoste Dournel dismissed suggestions that Maus Frères chairman Didier Maus had taken advantage of family dissent to take over the firm. “His behavior has been absolutely exemplary,” she said, adding that it was a measure of consolation that the family was ceding control to its historic partner. “They really are very solid, very positive partners for the brand,” she said.
A spokesman for Maus Frères said it did not have any comment on the takeover.