By  on March 21, 2005

PARIS — “I like figures fine enough,” François-Henri Pinault said with a shrug.

It’s clear that the new chief executive officer of PPR, who officially takes over from Serge Weinberg today, does not live and die by numbers alone.

“I have a profile much more involved in product types of issues, marketing types of issues, and strategy rather than the pure financial business,” Pinault said about the changing of the guard at the French conglomerate. “Serge and I are very different. His career and my career are very different.”

But Pinault, one of the most powerful new figures on the international fashion scene, also stressed continuity, saying PPR would stay the course, focusing on organic growth and cash generation for its various retail holdings and the Gucci Group luxury division.

The goal, he said, is to maximize cash generation and reduce PPR’s debt load of 4.5 billion euros (about $6 billion), “which will give PPR in the long term the financial means to make different moves.

“First, we have to deliver the results in the next five years, building on this new strategy of retail and luxury,” Pinault said in an interview at the plush, art-stuffed headquarters of Artemis, the family holding company. “We will then be in a position to further develop the group.”

Yes, he’s alluding to the possibility of future acquisitions, and perhaps even entering into another business field beyond retail or luxury.

“It’s the approach of an investor,” he explained. “I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. The approach we have is to be in the right business at the right time.”

Pinault, who as president of Fnac — PPR’s music, book and home electronics chain — orchestrated the acquisition of the Surcouf electronics chain in the late-Nineties, made it clear that PPR could further expand its retail arm, which generates about 84 percent of revenues via Printemps department stores, the Conforama furniture chain, Redcats mail-order catalogues and the CFAO African trading company.

“We have a huge game to play,” he said. “A luxury brand beyond a certain size could lose its exclusive dimension and then be in danger. For example, I don’t think a brand could reach sales of more than 10 billion euros (about $13.3 billion), which is easy in the retail world.”

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