By  on June 20, 1994

MILAN -- In a development that few people anticipated, Clemente Signoroni, who joined GFT SpA just 10 months ago as managing director to spearhead the financial and industrial restructuring of the designer label manufacturer, is expected to resign today, according to GFT sources.

The reason, said sources, is that Signoroni, formerly an executive of the Fiat SpA industrial group, does not approve of the pending acquisition of GFT by the Plaid Clothing Group PLC, which has an exclusive right to negotiate with GFT and has already offered some $242 million (400 billion lire) for control of the company.

Plaid, which is controlled by financier Omar Al Askari of Abu Dhabi, has been completing due diligence and working to arrange financing for the acquisition.

Neither Signoroni nor GFT spokesmen were available for comment over the weekend, but one internal source -- speaking on condition of anonymity -- said, "It was well known within the group that Signoroni didn't favor the Plaid offer. It just wasn't plausible to him that a company that made 450 billion lire [$285 million] in revenue should acquire one that makes 1.4 trillion lire [$875 million]."

The source said Signoroni has already cleared his desk and hasn't been seen at the group's Turin headquarters for the past week.

Because of Signoroni's expected resignation today, added the source, a meeting of the group's executive committee has been called for this morning to discuss the situation.

GFT chairman Marco Rivetti, who relinquished his operational responsibilities when Signoroni came aboard, is expected to reassume leadership of the group for the time being, sources said.

"Rivetti will probably become the point of reference once again," said one insider, noting that GFT would be unlikely to search for a new managing director until the ownership question has been resolved, although someone might be promoted internally.

GFT, which was controlled by the Rivetti family until its financial problems got out of control last year, has essentially been in the hands of its creditor banks, with Milan merchant bank Mediobanca coordinating the financial bailout.

If Signoroni does resign, it would be the latest development in a lengthy effort to relaunch GFT, a campaign that has included a two-year stint as managing director by former Olivetti executive Vittorio Levi, a bid -- later withdrawn -- by neighboring textile and apparel manufacturer Miroglio SpA and a bid by Mexican businessman Fabio Covarrubias that was turned down by Mediobanca in favor of the Plaid offer.Sources said Signoroni had been pushing for a deal that would have brought in Fiat investment group Gemina SpA -- which controls sportswear maker Fila SpA -- as a majority shareholder and could have seen Plaid remain with a minority stake. Gemina and Fila have repeatedly denied that there have been talks between the two groups.

"Signoroni was concerned about keeping the control of GFT in Italy," a source said. "He was pushing for talks with Gemina-Fila and didn't like the way things were turning out."

Plaid's exclusive right to negotiate with GFT is set to expire on June 30.

At that time, Plaid will be expected to confirm its offer to buy the company. Without going into any details, however, sources said the situation is still extremely "fluid" and that there may be other solutions for GFT if the Plaid deal evaporates.

Those alternatives could even include the possibility of Signoroni's eventual return to GFT. Signoroni, sources say, has won the trust of many of the key GFT players and its international stable of designers, a group that boasts such high-profile names as Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Claude Montana, Emanuel Ungaro and Calvin Klein.

Financial observers here say GFT's operational credibility does not seem to be in jeopardy, as the group's day-to-day activities are being handled by a team of top managers.

They also noted that due in large part to Signoroni's efforts, the group's indebtedness has been significantly reduced, and its earnings potential has improved greatly.

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