LONDON — Capping an extraordinary 18 months that saw it embrace digital, sell off non-strategic assets, buy online players and fix its watch business, Richemont has a chief executive officer — once again — in company veteran Jérôme Lambert.
Richemont made the announcement ahead of its annual general meeting — and as the luxury group touted a 22 percent uptick in five-month sales to 5.67 billion euros — thanks partly to the purchase earlier this year of online giant Yoox Net-a-porter.
Stripping out the impact of its new acquisitions, sales growth was 7 percent at actual rates, and 10 percent at constant ones.
Investors shrugged off all the good news, though, with Richemont’s shares closing up 0.8 percent at 82.80 Swiss francs on the Swiss stock exchange.
It was just under two years ago that Richemont’s chairman and main shareholder Johann Rupert revealed he was whittling down the management structure and eliminating the role of ceo in favor of letting the board run the company.
It’s a fast-moving luxury world, and since April 2017 when the most recent ceo, Richard Lepeu, retired, Richemont has evolved into a whole new beast: It now owns 100 percent of Yoox Net-a-porter and Watchfinder.co.uk, a purveyor of pre-owned watches online and off-line.
The group boasts a younger and more digitally minded board and put a new focus on leather goods at the companies in its portfolio. Crucially, it has also restructured its watch business and approach to distribution, having undertaken a costly buyback after demand fell flat.
Even the ceo role has a fresh set of requirements: Lambert, formerly Richemont’s chief operating officer, will be executing strategies drawn up by the board, and while he’ll oversee most businesses under the company umbrella, he won’t have control over them all. The ceo’s of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, two of Richemont’s biggest businesses, will report directly to the board and to Rupert, as will the company’s chief financial officer Burkhart Grund.
On Monday, Rupert said Lambert is taking responsibility for the group’s future growth “at a time when consumer habits are changing significantly. He will lead the development of strategic plans reflecting the long-term objectives and priorities established by the board.”
Rupert described Lambert as “a first amongst equals,” who will work in partnership with his fellow senior executives on the board: Cyrille Vigneron, ceo of Cartier; Nicolas Bos, ceo of Van Cleef & Arpels, and Grund.
Lambert was named Richemont’s chief operating officer last year — and had also led the Swiss giant’s Jaeger-LeCoultre and Montblanc divisions. He had also overseen the group’s specialist watchmakers and fashion and accessories divisions before becoming chief operating officer.
Analysts welcomed Lambert’s appointment, with Luca Solca of Exane BNP Paribas calling it “a step forward in senior management consolidation at Richemont” and Vontobel saying it offered “clear leadership for the group.”
Lambert is moving up the ladder as Richemont maintains its sales momentum in line with analysts’ expectations.
In the first five months of fiscal 2018-19, sales at actual exchange rates were up 22 percent after the consolidation of YNAP and Watchfinder. At constant rates they rose 25 percent.
The Americas and Europe delivered the most robust growth, with sales in the former up 35 percent and in the latter 27 percent. Asia-Pacific climbed 20 percent in the five months to Aug. 31 at actual exchange rates.
Jewelry was the only category that notched double-digit growth, climbing 11 percent in the period, followed by the specialist watchmakers, with 2 percent. Richemont said its online distributors, YNAP and Watchfinder, grew in the double digits.
The fashion and accessories division was up 1 percent. The company said division was partly impacted by the divestments of Lancel and Shanghai Tang. Richemont said that most maisons performed positively, led primarily by Peter Millar and Azzedine Alaïa, with a solid performance from Montblanc.