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Ex-Revlon Chief Michel Bergerac Dies at 84

He was founder Charles Revson's handpicked choice of a successor.

Michel C. Bergerac, 84, who succeeded Charles Revson as Revlon chairman and chief executive officer in 1975, died September 11, 2016 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital after a long illness. Most recently he was chairman of M.C. Bergerac & Co., an investments and advisory company based in New York.

Revson, who hid his cancer diagnoses at the time, courted Bergerac away from International Telephone & Telegraph Corp. where he was head of the European subsidiary. “Revson was always an admirer of ITT’s chairman Harold Geneen,” recalled Allan Mottus who covered Bergerac’s appointment for WWD. Bergerac had been considered a contender to succeed Geneen.

Coincidentally, there was already a Bergerac on the Revlon payroll, Michel’s older brother Jacques, a former actor, headed up the beauty giant’s Paris office.

Revson lured Bergerac with what was then an unusual tactic in business circles — a $1.3 million signing bonus. That earned him the nickname Catfish after baseball’s Catfish Hunter who had signed a massive bonus to join the Yankees. The announcement of Bergerac’s appointment was kept under wraps, recalled Mottus. “The big deal then was that Charles passed over and put at risk losing his cosmetic execs,” recalled Mottus of the shroud of secrecy that even included Bergerac’s brother.

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Former Revlon executive Stanley Kohlenberg recalled getting a tip from Mottus that the story was breaking in WWD. “He said ‘We’re running a story on a guy named Bergerac.’ I said, ‘Who’s he?’ No one knew about it.”

Kohlenberg said Revson handpicked Bergerac to help him achieve his goal of building Revlon into a megacompany like ITT. “He thought he was capable of building Revlon into a conglomerate so the Revson name would live on,” Kohlenberg said. “Although a good businessman, unfortunately he never seemed to understand the cosmetics industry. One thing he wanted was for new product development to take 15 months to one year — can you imagine a cosmetics company waiting that long?”

Upon Revson’s death in 1975, Bergerac assumed the title of ceo and chairman of the board. He diversified beyond cosmetics, overseeing 11 acquisitions including Coburn Optical and Armour Pharmaceuticals, and expanded Revlon’s distribution. But during his time, Revlon lost momentum against competition from Estée Lauder and L’Oréal.

Bergerac was an avid hunter and Kohlenberg recalled the display of his conquests mounted in his apartment. But in the end, the prey that got away was Revlon. Bergerac resigned in November 1985 after a hostile takeover by Ronald O. Perelman’s Pantry Pride Inc. It was reported at that time that Perelman paid $1.8 billion for Revlon’s stock. He remains the majority owner.

Bergerac was born in Biarritz, France, on Feb. 13, 1932. He received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Paris and then received his MBA from the University of California at Los Angeles on a Fulbright scholarship.

He is survived by his wife Alice and several family members in the U.S., France and South America.

No further memorial service information was known at press time.