By  on May 21, 2013

LONDON — Winds of change are whipping through Compagnie Financière Richemont, parent of brands including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Alfred Dunhill — and there may be more movement afoot.

On Tuesday, Richemont said Martha “Marty” Wikstrom had resigned her role as chief executive officer of Richemont Fashion and Accessories with immediate effect, confirming a May 17 report in WWD that she was exiting amid management changes at the company.

Wikstrom’s resignation comes on the heels of the decision by Richemont’s main shareholder, chairman and former ceo Johann Rupert, that he’s planning a yearlong sabbatical, starting in September. The company will be run by co-ceo’s Bernard Fornas and Richard Lepeu, who took over officially April 1.

Her exit is a rare departure among Richemont’s senior management, which is known for the long tenures of its top executives, and for switching talented executives among its various brands. Wikstrom was first appointed to the board in 2005 and served as a nonexecutive director until 2009, when she became an executive director upon her appointment as ceo of Richemont Fashion and Accessories. She oversaw the strategic development of six of Richemont’s companies, including Dunhill, Azzedine Alaïa, Chloé and Lancel, and reported directly to Rupert.

During her tenure at the helm of the fashion and accessories businesses, Wikstrom appointed new ceo’s at Lancel, Chloé and Dunhill, along with new designers at the latter two maisons.

Since 2009, Wikstrom has also served as a member of the chairman’s committee and the group management committee. She has stepped down from those committees.

According to industry sources, Fornas has a different management style than Rupert and is known to be a very hands-on manager.

Fornas was ceo of Cartier from 2002 to 2012 and is expected to have a strong hand in brand strategy and marketing, while Lepeu focuses on operations and logistics.

“It has been a pleasure to work with the group through my roles as a board director and as ceo of the fashion and accessories portfolio,” Wikstrom told WWD. “It has been a privilege to lead these six maisons, transitioning the businesses and positioning them for further prosperous growth.”

Dawn Mello, founder and president of her consulting firm for the luxury industry and a coinvestor with Wikstrom in the men’s footwear brand Harrys of London, said Wikstrom was a trailblazer at Richemont.

“She was the only woman in a leadership position there, she launched Azzedine Alaïa in the U.S. and really built the brand internationally. She oversaw the transformation and redevelopment of Chloé, which is just on the cusp of growth, and she has done a great job with Lancel,” said Mello.

There are no immediate plans to replace Wikstrom, according to industry sources familiar with Richemont. A spokesman for the company declined to comment on future leadership for the division.

Even before Wikstrom’s resignation, there was speculation among analysts that Richemont may be planning to sell off its smaller fashion brands. Analysts at Société Générale noted in a report on Friday that Richemont management is planning to “conduct a ‘closer review’ of the asset portfolio, potentially pointing to asset disposals.” The analysts speculated that Richemont might be eyeing the smaller fashion brands.

Addressing analysts on Thursday following the publication of the 2012-13 financial results, Rupert talked about “culling” the brand portfolio, although he did not name names. “You know, we talk about Van Cleef and about my baby Panerai, but we don’t talk about a load of rubbish that I also had a hand in buying.…So we haven’t always been that successful. Maybe we’ve got to cull our bad investments quicker. That’s one thing.…Not maybe, we should [cull our bad investments more quickly],” he said.

While Richemont is known for cultivating brands for the long term, it has made disposals before. It sold its shares in the men’s wear brand Hackett in 2005 and in the retailer Old England in 2006.

As reported, sales at Richemont’s “other” division, which includes the fashion and accessories businesses, Net-a-porter and watch component manufacturing businesses, climbed 16 percent in the 12 months to March 31.

Fashion and accessories saw single-digit sales growth, and operating profits were lower than the prior year at 23 million euros, or $29.7 million. Richemont said the slower growth in fashion and accessories, and at writing instruments maker Montblanc, was due to “challenging” conditions in the companies’ major markets.

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