NEW YORK — Chanel appears to have its succession plan in place, but it won’t be an overnight transition.
More than a year since the company began an executive search, Chanel Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Chanel SA, is expected to announce today that Maureen Chiquet, president of Banana Republic, has been named to succeed Arie Kopelman as president and chief operating officer in 2005.
Reached late Monday, Kopelman would not confirm the report or whether an offer had been made during the recruitment of his successor, which was initiated in February 2002. Kopelman acknowledged that he would relinquish his operating duties and the title of president in another 20 months, in December 2004, after which he will remain vice chairman of the company for at least another four years.
“I have made a commitment to stay on as vice chairman of the board through December 2008,” said Kopelman, who is 64. “The important thing here is that we will have continuity, especially here in a private company with a strong corporate culture. That continuity is and will be very important, and I am very pleased to continue as vice chairman for that four-year period, to be as helpful as I can be in that advisory role.”
Establishing Kopelman’s successor has been a difficult process, according to sources, requiring a worldwide search for an executive with a proven track record, fluency in French and English, and a comfort with frequent travel between New York and Paris. Plus, they were looking for someone with the potential to live up to Kopelman’s charming image and to represent the company well.
Chiquet is a graduate of Yale University and started working at L’Oréal in Paris in 1985, eventually as a brand manager there, until she joined Gap Inc. in 1989. She began in Gap’s merchandising program, prior to joining Old Navy in 1994. Last August, she was promoted from executive vice president of merchandising for Old Navy to become president of Banana Republic, succeeding Gary Muto, who became president of Gap U.S.
While some headhunters expected her move from the price-oriented Old Navy chain to its more quality and style-focused Banana Republic division to be a difficult transition then, the results were evidently impressive enough to attract attention from the luxury-oriented Chanel. She is expected to join the company this summer and then live in Paris for a year to absorb the corporate culture there.
Although Kopelman holds the title of president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc. and reports to Alain Wertheimer, chairman of Chanel SA, his role has extended internationally over the years to take on a more visible global impact on the company. It had largely been assumed that the company would look outside for a successor, much as Kopelman was discovered from Doyle Dane Bernbach, a Boston advertising agency, more than 15 years ago, where he had worked on Chanel’s ad account.
Despite the pressure that faced Europe’s luxury conglomerates, Kopelman is credited with forging strong relations with retailers and magazine publishers — keeping Chanel, which is privately owned by the Wertheimer family, in high standing as one of the world’s great brand names with global sales of about $2 billion — and maintaining the sophisticated appeal of the brand’s business side, much as designer Karl Lagerfeld, whose contract runs until 2004, has contributed to keeping its fashion looking modern.