NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren Corp. is keeping its eyes open for international expansion, with possibly Brazil as its next big push.
That was the word from founder, chairman and chief executive officer Ralph Lauren on Thursday at his firm’s annual meeting — a milestone 15 years since it went public — for shareholders held here at the St. Regis.
“We are looking at the whole world,” Lauren said. “China and Asia has been a very important factor for us, and Brazil has been very important.”
As for timing of its global expansion and the worldwide economic climate, “We just opened another store in China this past week, and we have lots of plans for Brazil and Europe,” Lauren said. “We’re aware of the issues, we’re aware of what’s going on, we have to be careful and watch what the economies are doing.”
Lauren emphasized to attendees, “We’re going forward full blast in every area that is receptive to us.”
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The meeting began at 9:40 a.m. and lasted about 15 minutes. Wearing a light gray suit, with a white shirt and a matching gray tie, Lauren spoke to a group of 100 attendees, comprising of board members, senior level executives, staff and shareholders. After welcoming everyone, he showed a five-minute clip that was essentially a “year in review.”
For the first order of business, Lauren made a point of introducing Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer, of whom the ceo said, “Roger is my partner in building this company.”
Unlike previous meetings where he spoke about the humble beginnings of the firm when he started in the tie business, Lauren was candid about speaking before shareholders.
“I have been doing this for 15 years and, somehow, I still get nervous,” Lauren told the crowd. “[There’s] no reason to get nervous, because this company has been consistently amazing.”
He did emphasize that there are still opportunities and challenges ahead for the company to conquer.
“As we’re going through China and as our world expands, it gets a lot more complicated,” Lauren admitted “This is a world that is opening up. I have said this in the past, but this is the beginning. I really feel this is the beginning of our company because we are now expanding into worlds that we have yet to conquer but we’re out there.”
Among the new initiatives, he cited the global expansion of e-commerce, which is adding England and Japan.
“We are really going forward on everything you’ve seen — the product, the shoes, the bags, every division, new companies that develop,” Lauren noted. “They’re all of the same theme — they have integrity, they have history, and consistency of talent that we keep working on. We don’t sit there and wait for it to happen, we’re making it happen.”
Portfolio manager Philip Berman asked about the recent exit of American Living at J.C. Penney.
“We have a very nice relationship with [ceo] Ron Johnson and J.C. Penney,” Lauren said. “We both agreed that it wasn’t right for our businesses, that we had different visions. This has been a very mutual, friendly departure. I wish him well.…As you can see, we have more than enough to do.”
Economist Xiomara Cortés Metcalfe brought up the issue of the Olympic uniforms and the controversy surrounding them, and whether there’s been any discussion to move manufacturing back to the States.
“We’re aware of it. We’ve taken steps to work on what possibilities there are of producing more things in America,” the ceo said.
Shareholders were in a good mood, given that the stock has risen nearly 19 percent since the annual meeting last year.
In closing the meeting, Lauren said, “Thank you for…investing your savings in our company. I am in the same boat as you are and I won’t let you down.”
Later in the day, after the meeting, the company said its board had approved a new $500 million stock repurchase program, allowing the company to purchase shares of Class A common stock. The program is in addition to the $277 million available at the end of the first quarter, June 30, which was part of a previous authorized stock repurchase program. The total current authorization is $777 million.