Diego Della Valle not only knows how to make an entrance, he knows how to keep the party going.
The Tod’s SpA chairman, who raised eyebrows when he snatched up 5.9 percent of Saks Inc. in 2009, had tongues wagging this fall when, in two big pushes, he boosted his stake in the top-shelf retailer to 19.1 percent.
The move made Della Valle Saks’ biggest shareholder, driving the Italian tycoon past Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, who owns 16.1 percent of the firm.
Some see it as a slow-motion takeover. Others see a savvy investor at work — Saks’ stock has increased more than six-fold since Della Valle began building his stake at about $1.70 a share.
Although he has been coy about his ultimate goal, Della Valle has indicated he might seek representation on the company’s board. It’s also clear that he sees the company as something more than a retailer of finely made fashions.
“Saks is in everyone’s collective imagination,” he told WWD. “It stands for America, with Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue.”
“Maybe there’s also a sentimental aspect,” he said in the Italian press, recalling childhood trips to New York. “I went into that big department store on Fifth Avenue almost every day and it always brought me great happiness. I don’t hide that I am proud to have become the primary shareholder.”
If Della Valle’s influence over Saks does continue to grow, the company can at least be thankful that he’s a kindred spirit.
“His complete DNA is aligned with what the store’s all about,” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon Associates and a former chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue. “A private equity firm would probably have an exit strategy figured out and go on to the next transaction. Della Valle is immersed in the fashion industry.”