NEW YORK — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault has turned to politics to find the company’s top executive for North America.
This story first appeared in the August 5, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
On Monday, LVMH said it brought in Renaud Dutreil as chairman of its North American arm, LVMH Inc.
Dutreil, who starts in the newly created, New York-based role on Sept. 1, is a well-known figure in French politics and industry. He has been in politics for more than 15 years, and in that time, helped implement reforms to improve the French economy’s competitiveness, while respecting the country’s heritage of luxury goods and other sectors.
“We are delighted with the arrival of Renaud Dutreil at LVMH,” said chairman and chief executive officer Arnault. “His experience and skills will contribute to the growth of LVMH’s businesses in the United States.”
The 48-year-old Dutreil was elected a member of the French Parliament in 1994, and reelected in 1997, 2002 and 2007. From 2005 to 2007, Dutreil was minister for small and medium-sized businesses, commerce, crafts and liberal professions. Before that, he was minister for public functions and state reform, and prior to that, secretary of state for small and medium-sized businesses, commerce, crafts, liberal professions and consumer affairs. He is currently Member of Parliament for Reims.
Dutreil will represent LVMH in North America, and part of his responsibility will be to work directly with public authorities and the business community in the U.S. Dutreil’s role is to regionally coordinate the group’s various undertakings, focus on the overall business performance and ensure image coherence. He is also being charged with overseeing the group’s shared services, which include such divisions as human resources, finance, legal and property, with those corporate areas reporting to him.
In a letter published in Monday’s issue of Le Monde, Dutreil cited three reasons for trading politics for business, the principal one being Arnault himself.
“France owes a lot to Bernard Arnault. His success is also France’s success. It’s a country of artisans, creators, winemakers, designers: guardians of tradition that have made LVMH the world leader of beauty,” he wrote.
Dutreil said he relates strongly to LVMH’s various businesses, which span from wines and spirits to leather goods and perfumes, and also harbors great admiration for America. “Power always needs a counterbalance. I would like France, a loyal ally, to be one of them,” he wrote. “In the course of years of experiences, personal and professional, I’ve learned to love this place of freedom, its spirit of enterprise and of new frontiers.”
While politicians have gone corporate before, appointing Dutreil to a luxury goods company of LVMH’s caliber could still be seen as a daring move by Arnault, who is France’s richest man with close ties to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Dutreil sought to reform business relations in France to improve the country’s competitive edge, increase the flexibility of the tax system, help small businesses, and support industrial innovation, the arts, apprenticeships and capital investment and private financing for start-up businesses. He also published a book on France called “La République des âmes mortes: Réflexions sur la France” — the minister’s reflections on his native country that he describes as “a republic of dead souls.”
Ironically, though he was committed to modernizing France’s business environment, he was a public opponent to opening all stores on Sundays, including Louis Vuitton’s flagship on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
Dutreil is no stranger to the design industry. He worked with Didier Grumbach, the president of France’s Chambre Syndicale, on a bank credit system for young designers to help them finance the production process. He also conceived the government initiative called “Entreprises du Patrimoine Vivants” or “Businesses of National Heritage,” which was launched in 2007 to boost the country’s rich tradition of craftsmanship. The idea of a government label was widely seen as a way to encourage businesses.
He is also no stranger to the fashion stage. In 2005, Dutreil was the minister who pinned the chevalier of the Legion of Honor medallion on Christian Dior ceo Sidney Toledano. The event, held in Dior’s Paris salons, attracted an audience including John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld, Marisa Berenson and Carla Fendi.