LONDON – Johann Rupert is looking to propel his multibillion dollar luxury group, Cartier parent Compagnie Financière Richemont, into the future with a new wave of digitally-savvy executives – and brainy young women.
Rupert, who retooled Richemont’s management structure last year, made the announcement Friday as the company witnessed a 45.6 percent fall in year-end profits to 1.21 billion euros, or $1.33 billion, against a challenging backdrop for luxury, and high-end watches in particular.
Among the nine candidates set to join the board following September’s annual general meeting are Rupert’s 29-year-old son Anton Rupert; former Google executive Nikesh Arora; the triple-degree Harvard University graduate and London School of Economics professor Dr Keyu Jin, and Dr. Vesna Nevestic, a former group managing director at UBS.
The latter two are women in their thirties, a big deal for Richemont, whose board has traditionally been dominated by older male executives.
“This is not window-dressing,” said Rupert on a call early Friday. “This is a whole new generation bringing skills, at all levels, to the nonexecutive board. Just look at what these people have achieved in life.”
He argued that most of Richemont’s sales are to women, and that he wants to see more females not only on the board but at the senior executive level as well. Rupert had said late last year that it was time to refresh the company with young blood.
As for his son Anton, Rupert said he has been working inside Richemont for the past nine years, and that the executive sees him as “the new Google translate to tell us where the world is going.”
In typically self-deprecating style, Rupert said that, generally, when he asks his son questions about e-commerce, “He’s very polite to me, but I know he’s asking himself: ‘How the hell am I going to explain these things to a 66-year-old?’”
Richemont said his son should bring “further insight into changing consumer behavior in our target markets, in particular in the areas of digital marketing and web-based commerce.”
Another candidate, Arora, is a former senior vice president and chief business officer of Google, and the former president and chief operating officer of SoftBank Corp., the Japanese telecoms and Internet giant. He also served as president and chief executive officer of SoftBank’s Internet and media operations.
Rupert said Arora and his son are very close friends.
Jin, meanwhile, is an associate professor of economics at the London School of Economics. Originally from Beijing, she holds a BA, MA and a PhD from Harvard. Richemont said her specific areas of expertise are international macroeconomics, international finance and the Chinese economy.
Nevistic, the other female candidate, is a former partner at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, and served at UBS as part of the team that restructured the bank’s operations following the 2008 financial crisis. She has a PhD in electrical engineering and is currently an independent consultant, offering advice on corporate strategy and restructuring.
There are other reasons why Rupert is bringing his son into the spotlight. “Although he will not have an executive role, Anton is the link” between the continuous shareholding in Richemont and management, Rupert said.
He added that the Rupert family has a “substantial amount of capital invested” in Richemont, and a family member absolutely needs to be involved in the company. The elder Rupert, who founded Richemont in 1988, is the shareholder of reference. A minority of shares is listed on the Swiss stock exchange.
In November, Rupert announced he was shaking up, and whittling down, the management structure at Richemont. He eliminated the ceo role entirely, and wants the board to run the company – on his watch. The executive remains executive chairman.
Asked on the call how much longer he plans to remain at Richemont, Rupert laughed, saying: “This job is a lot of fun – enormous fun, and they still need a music conductor. The [Richemont] orchestra needs a bit of conducting.”