SYDNEY – Louis Vuitton Oceania chief executive officer Philip Corne has stepped down after 13 years to helm the Australian operations of L Catterton, the private equity firm formed from the merger of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s investment arm L Capital and Catterton.
Corn has taken up the position of executive chairman of Sydney-based L Catterton Australia, formerly known as L Capital Asia in Australia, in order to “ramp up” growth and development for the current portfolio of Australian investments and pursue new investment opportunities, he said. Australian investments made over the past two years by L Capital Asia include Melbourne-based technical sportswear manufacturer 2XU, Sydney-based swimwear brand Seafolly and Adelaide-based heritage outfitter RM Williams.
Established in 2009, L Capital Asia, the Singapore-based private equity fund that is sponsored by LVMH and which was among entities merged into L Catterton in January, currently manages over $1.6 billion across two private equity funds and over $2 billion, including co-investments.
“Philip has been a trusted resource assisting and advising L Capital Asia since 2014,” said L Capital Asia chairman and managing partner Ravi Thakran. “He is a great asset and we are very pleased to have him join the L Capital Asia team in a full-time capacity. We are keen to explore new opportunities in Australia across beauty and wellness, natural and super foods, travel and wine.”
Corne told WWD his remit will also cover the New Zealand market, adding that he is currently looking at six to eight new brands across the two markets in the premium consumer products space. The company is interested in brands that have a unique selling point, with international potential and annual sales revenue in the vicinity of 100 million to 150 million Australian dollars, he said, or $76 million to $114 million at current exchange.
The decision to bolster L Capital Asia’s Australian division, which was established in 2014, would not have any impact on the operations of the Singapore office, he said.
“No, it doesn’t change anything – with three investments here and plans in the future for more, they had to start building the structure and the organization here,” said Corne. “As we start to invest in additional companies, we have to make sure that we have the resources necessary to review the investment opportunities that come through, to execute the transactions and then to monitor and help, working with the management, to build the businesses for eventual sale”.
Corne declined to comment on the litigation involving L Capital Asia and LVMH in Singaporean courts with at least three separate litigants, other than saying the claims are being “vigorously defended.”
Among the plaintiffs is John Manos, who sold half his equity in Australian gourmet food retailer Jones The Grocer to L Capital Asia in 2014 and is seeking damages from the company for alleged minority shareholder oppression. Jones The Grocer is currently in administration in Australia, with all stores closed. Seventeen Jones The Grocer outlets continue to operate in New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East.
Separately, Uday Mehra, L Capital Asia’s former regional managing director of operations, is suing L Capital Asia, Thakran and senior LVMH executives for wrongful dismissal, alleging his employment was terminated after he revealed 11 serious governance issues at L Capital Asia.
Corne, who has been with Louis Vuitton for 28 years, serving as chief financial officer of Louis Vuitton North America from 1998 to 2002, remains a non-executive director of Louis Vuitton Australia and is also on the boards of 2XU and Seafolly and was appointed chairman of the board of RM Williams in December 2015.
“I think the world has woken up to Australia a bit as a market that punches a bit above its weight in all sorts of ways,” he said. “And I think in this part of the world, too, we have things to offer that others don’t in terms of the quality of life and that sort of entrepreneurial spirit that you have to have when you’re part of a small market.”
Corne is to be succeeded by Tengku Adam Hamzah, currently Louis Vuitton Taiwan general manager, who will take up the position of Louis Vuitton Oceania managing director on Oct. 1.