Alessandro Benetton Steps Aside

For the first time in the history of the 49-year old company, a non-family member will lead the business.

MILAN — Alessandro Benetton is taking a step back from his role as chairman of the family-owned Benetton Group SpA and, for the first time in the history of the 49-year old company, a non-family member will lead the business.

This story first appeared in the May 9, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Following a board meeting on Thursday, Gianni Mion was appointed non-executive chairman. Mion remains vice chairman of the Benetton family’s holding Edizione Srl, whose investments range from highway catering and communications to real estate and agriculture. A longtime go-to executive for the Benettons, Mion sits on the board of other family investments, including Autogrill SpA, Eurostazioni SpA, World Duty Free SpA and Sintonia SpA.

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On Thursday, Marco Airoldi was nominated chief executive officer, succeeding Biagio Chiarolanza, confirming a report last month. This new governance model is in line with the one historically present in all the companies controlled by Edizione and applies to all the subsidiaries of Benetton Group.

The Italian fashion company also appointed a new board, which includes Alessandro Benetton, Christian Benetton, Franca Bertagnin Benetton, Sabrina Benetton, Mion, Airoldi, Tommaso Barracco, Fabio Buttignon, Alfredo Malguzzi, Francesco Panfilo and Sandro Saccardi.

Alessandro Benetton returns to being executive chairman of private equity fund 21 Partners, which he founded in 1992 and was then called 21 Investimenti. He took on the leading position at Benetton in April 2012, succeeding his father Luciano Benetton, who had overseen the company for 47 years. The shift came as Edizione decided to delist from the Milan Stock Exchange after 26 years and as the Italian textile and clothing manufacturer and retailer was battling changing consumer tastes, rising raw material costs and the weak economies of Europe, especially Italy, its largest market.

Alessandro Benetton has been instrumental in setting in motion changes at the group, such as the creation and differentiation of three new areas at the company — managing brands, manufacturing and real estate. At the end of the process, all three entities will be directly controlled by Edizione. Benetton has also been pivotal in disrupting the company’s history of family management. His goal was always to create a company led by management independent of the family.

“I have been the detonator for discontinuity, making things happen and further separating shareholders and management,” he told WWD last year.

The executive has been focusing on the United Colors of Benetton label and the bridge, more-fashion oriented Sisley brand, divesting other monikers such as Playlife and Killer Loop. As part of a three-year program, the company is streamlining its structure to become more competitive and improve its profitability, with plans to exit about 60 countries that are no longer deemed strategic. The group is also further developing its accessories and additional licenses, following the fragrance revealed last year with Puig Group. Last month, the company unveiled its new United Colors of Benetton concept store at the historic and central unit in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, overlooking the Gothic cathedral, as it also revealed plans to increase its focus on the women’s category, designed by new creative director Valentina Soster.

Last year, revenues decreased 10 percent from 1.8 billion euros, or $2.3 billion, in 2012.