NEW YORK — Consistency and tomorrow were the key points that Ralph Lauren was homing in on in his message to shareholders Thursday.
The annual meeting for shareholders of Ralph Lauren Corp., which began promptly at 9:30 a.m., was held at the St. Regis hotel here. The main surprise that came out of the meeting was that Lauren admitted the company has considered a spinoff of Club Monaco, the 140-store women’s and men’s specialty chain it acquired in 1999. However, the chairman and chief executive officer stressed it wasn’t something that has had high priority given all the other projects the company is working on.
Lauren also said that, while the firm is building market share in accessories as competitors are seeing declines in their own sales, ”we’re not watching our competitors.” He noted that the company is not relying on any one category, and certainly not a category such as handbags that “could be here today and gone tomorrow.”
As has been customary over the last few years, attendees were shown a short film on the past year’s accomplishments, although Lauren garnered some laughter before the clip was shown when he said to shareholders, “We’ve prepared a film for you. It’s only two hours long, but that’s OK.”
While the past year’s highlights included new store openings, the company’s three restaurants and the 4-D Fashion Show of the Polo collection for women last September, the film also spent time showing Polo Sport for men and the new Polo Tech product featuring a biosensing fiber that’s set to be available for men later this month and for women some time next year.
The short film ended with a soundbite from Lauren: “Our company is not built on what we did yesterday, or what we do today, but on what we dream of for tomorrow.”
At the podium, Lauren said that while numbers and pages show one side of the story, it’s when one sees the film that one can understand that it’s about “America at its best” and about the company “standing for what we believe in.”
Lauren noted that he’s “been here 50 years, just about, [and] it’s been a great ride.” He noted that while there are always challenges, and every now and then a few mistakes along the way, “the picture says we’re going somewhere…. We look at the big picture.”
The chairman recounted how years ago critics said he wouldn’t be able to sell his suits, which were selling then at $200 each. “’You’ll never go anywhere. People won’t pay $200 for a suit,’” he said he was told. Lauren then noted, “Now they pay $5,000 for a suit and $1,000 for a tie.” He also reminded shareholders that consistency has helped the company get to where it is today, while staying focused on building the company for tomorrow. “We are a future company, not a backward company,” he said.
While Lauren was relaxed during the company presentation, he bristled somewhat during the question-and-answer period.
Questions were raised regarding leadership and whether the company needs to add additional depth to the bench to replace those who left, as well as the idea of tightening up its noncompete agreements so executives who leave can’t take their expertise to a competing firm.
Lauren emphasized, “We have leadership. We keep moving….We don’t rely on one leader.” He also refuted the suggestion that one person has been responsible for the growth of the company, noting, “People are working together to build this company. [They are] all thinking about how to build the company.”
Another question was asked on when David Lauren might move to the chief operating officer position, to which Lauren said, “David who?” Lauren noted that his son David is going to be a dad in November. “Let’s see what the baby looks like and then we’ll see what to do with David,” the chairman joked.
Jackwyn Nemerov is president and chief operating officer of the company while David Lauren is executive vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications.