Michele Norsa

MILAN — The Ferragamo family is turning to a trusted executive for support as the coronavirus pandemic shakes up the industry and the economy.

Michele Norsa is returning to Salvatore Ferragamo, a company he helped grow over 10 years and publicly listed in his role as chief executive officer. Norsa will join the board as director and executive deputy chairman, effective May 28.

Ferruccio Ferragamo will continue to helm the company as chairman. His son, James Ferragamo, has resigned from the board, allowing Norsa to be recruited and assume the executive powers previously exercised by Ferruccio Ferragamo.

James Ferragamo will continue in his role as brand and product and communication director. He was also confirmed as manager with strategic responsibilities in the context of the current stock exchange regulations applicable to the company.

Norsa has also taken over the chairmanship of the executive committee and the brand and product strategic committee.

Micaela le Divelec Lemmi will remain the company’s ceo. In a statement, the company said Norsa’s arrival will “entail strict cooperation with” le Divelec Lemmi “in the implementation of the company’s strategic plans.”

The management structure was revealed at the end of trading on Wednesday, after a meeting of the board of the majority shareholder Ferragamo Finanziaria SpA that focused on strategic guidance and planning the management of the group to be entirely entrusted to executive managers.

Norsa joined Ferragamo in 2006 and exited in 2016. His experience with the initial public offering process was one reason he was brought into the company as he played a critical role in Marzotto SpA’s stock market spin-off of its fashion interests into Valentino Fashion Group. Norsa became ceo of Valentino SpA in 2002, when Marzotto bought the fashion house from the now-defunct holding company HdP. He was also general manager of VFG’s licensed brands M Missoni and Marlboro Classics. Earlier, the executive worked at other family-owned companies such as Benetton, Sergio Tacchini and Rizzoli.

A member of the board of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, the Rocco Forte Hotels and Oettinger Davidoff AG, Norsa is a partner of the Italian fund FSI and he has held the role of vice chairman of Missoni.

A market source said Norsa was encouraged in taking this role by the family’s support. “There are opportunities at this junction, when timing and formats of the shows and of the collections are being challenged, and new structural operations are necessary. It’s a time when changing skin is key,” said the source. “Norsa will bring the rigor he has always applied in his career and the current situation allows to implement new strategies that in normal conditions would not be feasible. Speed will be key.”

Armando Branchini, deputy chairman of Milan-based consultancy InterCorporate, praised both the Ferragamo family for their decision and Norsa for having accepted, defining the latter as “a strong signal of great dedication.” Norsa, he said, “understands the company in depth, knows its strength as few others, and he knows retailing, which at this moment is such a fragile component and needs to be fixed.”

The strengthening of the management leads to all possible scenarios, including that of the much-rumored sale of the company — always denied by the family — but Branchini was cautious. “It will take at least two years for the fashion industry to recover [from the effects of the pandemic] and M&As of companies of this size and with such a history will not be seen before 2022. This would allow the Ferragamos enough time to grow the company solidly.”

As reported, Ferragamo’s exposure to China and to tourism weighed on the company’s bottom line in the first quarter of the year, as the coronavirus pandemic spread first from the group’s main business area. However, the company’s management has set in motion a number of initiatives and cost-containment measures expected to bear fruit in the second quarter.

In the three months ended March 31, the COVID-19 pandemic and the progressive lockdown of stores globally, beginning in China, dragged the company into a loss, which totaled 41 million euros, compared with a profit of 11 million euros in the same period last year.

Revenues in the period dropped 30.1 percent to 222 million euros, compared with 317 million euros in the first quarter of last year.

During a call with analysts commenting on this performance earlier this month, when asked about possible winning strategies in a post-COVID-19 scenario, le Divelec Lemmi said “one of the priorities is to push digital,” not only in terms of e-commerce, but shifting initiatives and engaging customers, and reinforcing “sustainability and ethical values core to the brand. I do believe that after the crisis, these could be relevant.”