PARIS — François Pinault, the billionaire magnate who controls France’s Pinault-Printemps-Redoute retail and luxury conglomerate, has handed the reins of his far-flung empire to his son.
François-Henri Pinault, 41, on Thursday became chairman of Artemis, the family holding company, which retains a majority 42.2 percent in Pinault-Printemps-Redoute. Artemis’ other properties include the Christie’s auction business, the Chateau Latour winery, a theater in Paris and a French soccer team.
The handover, disclosed in French business daily Les Echos Thursday, culminates a two-year grooming process that began when François said François-Henri would eventually succeed him.
No major strategic departures are expected as a result of the change, according to sources at PPR and Artemis.
Serge Weinberg will continue as chief executive of PPR and Patricia Barbizet will remain managing director of Artemis.
The elder Pinault, 66, for his part, will remain a presence, although a more removed one now. He retains co-chairmanship with François-Henri, of Financiere Pinault, the entity that controls all of the family’s investments.
The change could likewise allow François, an avid collector of modern and contemporary art, more time to devote to his nascent project for a foundation in Paris, designed by Tadao Ando, to exhibit his extensive collections.
Pinault’s fortune is an estimated $2.6 billion.
The move, however, will give François-Henri a more preponderate role in daily operational decisions. It also solidifies his position among France’s most powerful business figures.
Over the last 15 years, François-Henri has held various management positions within PPR. As the chief executive of Fnac, the book and music retailer, François-Henri earned plaudits for his business acumen.
Although he is said to share many of his father’s qualities, François-Henri, a graduate of France’s prestigious HEC business school, is believed to be more attentive to numbers than his father, a self-made man who is said to fall back on instinct in crunch situations.
François-Henri’s grit is sure to be put to a quick test. Among the approaching challenges he will face is PPR’s commitment to buy at $101.50 a share all the Gucci stock it doesn’t own next March. PPR now controls 63.28 percent of the Italian luxury firm.Facing heavy debt, PPR has been selling many of its non-core holdings to prepare for the so-called Gucci put. Its credit and financial services arm, wood business, electronics parts subsidiary and office supplies distributor have all been shed.
The company has cast the changes as a vast strategic realignment, which takes PPR away from its traditional business-to-business activities in favor of the higher-margin retail and luxury businesses.
PPR’s foray into luxury has come under scrutiny. Since it took its stake in Gucci in 1999, the company’s stock has plummeted from $300 to $77. The stock fell to a low of $51 in March.
In Les Echos, François-Henri echoed sentiments expressed recently by Weinberg that PPR would be in good financial position when the Gucci put comes due. “These sales, put together, will allow the financing of the acquisition of Gucci without weighting PPR’s debt ratio,” he said.
Although Weinberg remains captain of the PPR ship, François-Henri is expected to cultivate a more direct relationship with him. His father was known to call his chief executive several times a day to discuss important issues.
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