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Norsa Gets His Feet Wet at Ferragamo

Michele Norsa barely paused between leaving his old job at Valentino Fashion Group SpA and taking on his new duties at Salvatore Ferragamo Italia SpA.

MILAN — Michele Norsa barely paused between leaving his old job at Valentino Fashion Group SpA and taking on his new duties at Salvatore Ferragamo Italia SpA.

“On Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. I was in the Valentino offices. The next morning, which was a Sunday, I took the train down to Florence,” Norsa told WWD in his first round of interviews since taking Ferragamo’s reins. “Working in a new company stimulates you.”

Norsa said it’s too soon to outline a comprehensive strategy for the company, which turns 80 next year. But the executive, clad in a wide pinstriped suit and a raspberry-hued tie, did divulge some of his initial impressions and priorities for Ferragamo. These include expanding into new markets; rolling out more focused, eye-catching advertising campaigns, and introducing more accountability into the corporate culture.

Ferragamo is planning to go public at some undefined point in the future, part of a broader solution to resolve a complex succession issue for the 40-plus member family. When pressed for a time frame, Norsa said he couldn’t rule out the possibility of an initial public offering as early as next year, but he stressed that it’s up to the shareholders to decide and there is no urgency since the company doesn’t need funds. In the meantime, he wants to run the company as if it already were listed on the stock market.

“Public companies have a different way of working,” said Norsa who, before Valentino, worked at several other public companies, namely Valentino FG, Marzotto and Benetton. “The stock market requires a discipline in terms of numbers, time frames and communications. It’s a good school [of management]….I hope to bring this culture into Ferragamo.”

On just that note, he gave an update on the business so far. Norsa said Ferragamo’s sales through September are up “slightly more” than 10 percent and are expected to keep that pace through the end of the year. He declined to give a profit forecast. He is in the process of planning the company’s budget for next year.

Last year, Ferragamo’s sales rose 12 percent to 575 million euros, or $718.8 million. Net profit was 39.2 million euros, or $49 million.

This story first appeared in the November 21, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at average exchange rates for the period to which they refer.

The executive’s inaugural train journey to Ferragamo’s headquarters on Oct. 1 was just the start of a whirlwind world tour to acquaint himself with the brand’s markets. Norsa has racked up a lot of air miles in the first two months of his tenure, circling the globe from Los Angeles to New York and from Hong Kong to Paris. He’s off to Japan next week.

Norsa said America and Asia are still the most important points of geographic focus for the company. Of Ferragamo’s 20 to 30 planned store openings for next year, most of them will be concentrated in those two markets, in locales as divergent as Riverside, N.J., and Beijing’s Central Palace shopping mall. Norsa said sales growth in the U.S. is outpacing all other geographic markets, while growth in Japan is lagging on a combination of factors, including a weak yen.

Still, Norsa sees plenty of growth potential in areas such as China, eastern Europe, central Asia and South America.

Elsewhere, Norsa said he intervened to alter Ferragamo’s advertising strategy. He declined to discuss the details of the new spring campaign, but said color is a central element, allowing the images to be used on billboards as well as other forms of non-print advertising. The company is abandoning its slogan-driven campaigns of the past featuring bold-faced mottos such as “I Love Salvatore” and “Love Live.”

“I think that the use of other phrases weakens the brand a bit,” he said.

In terms of overall style direction, Norsa said the men’s collection, designed by Massimiliano Giornetti, has a cohesive image in terms of accessories, apparel and overall runway presentation, but the executive admitted the women’s collection needs to find that same consistency. Chief women’s wear designer Graeme Black, who left and then returned to the company two years ago, has garnered some lukewarm reviews for his collections. That said, his spring effort of Empire-waisted dresses, Fifties-style skirts and shrunken jackets was well received.

Norsa said he is happy with the overall design team at Ferragamo. When asked about Black’s future at the company, he said there are no changes planned for the moment.

“That’s an evaluation I will have to make further into the future,” he said.