MILANBenetton Group has initiated a search for a new president, according to market sources in Italy. This is also preparatory to either a possible return to the stock exchange or to opening up to outside investors or partners, said the sources.

“The Benettons are looking at further reaching out beyond the family for an independent president and they are seeking someone from the fashion world to strengthen their expertise,” said one industry observer. “This will take place over the next few months.”

Whether to sell a stake to a partner or go public again won’t be decided for another two to four years, added the source, “after the turnaround has been completed.” Benetton was delisted in 2012.

In May 2014, Alessandro Benetton took a step back from his role as chairman of the family-owned company and, for the first time in the history of the brand, which turned 50 last year, a non-family member, Gianni Mion, was appointed to lead the business. Mion is a longtime go-to executive for the Benettons.

In 2014, Marco Airoldi was nominated chief executive officer, succeeding Biagio Chiarolanza. “Since then, Airoldi has brought more than 20 managers to the group. Mion was the first step for the company, the first to head the textile and fashion group that was not part of the family,” said the source. Among the managers tapped by Airold are John Mollanger, the firm’s chief product and marketing officer, who has held leadership positions at Asics Co., Nike and Puma; chief sales and distribution officer Marco Messini, and retail director Piero Maldini.

The apparel business is part of the Benetton family’s holding Edizione Srl, whose investments range from highway catering and communications to real estate and agriculture. The family is also looking at possible deals in other sectors. In particular, the word in Italy is that the Benettons are eyeing mergers and acquisitions for highway restaurant chain Autogrill, also under the Edizione umbrella. On Wednesday, Autogrill shares were temporarily suspended on the Italian Stock Exchange after rising as much as 10 percent. They closed up 8.61 percent at 6.75 euros, or $7.58 at current exchange.

Edizione last year sold a majority stake in airport retailer World Duty Free to Dufry AG.

According to the 2014 annual report, the holding closed that year with a net profit of 136 million euros, or $181 million, on sales of 10.9 billion euros, or $14.5 billion.

The textile and clothing division last year posted a loss of 91 million euros, or $121 million, compared with a loss of 199 million euros, or $262.7 million, at the end of 2013. The 2014 figures reflect the impact of preparatory measure taken as part of a turnaround program formalized that year with a three-year business plan for the 2015-2017 period, said the repott. The group has been revamping its operations as it has sought to return to the growth path in the face of increasing competition from retailers such as H&M and Zara. The company has been cleaning up its network of stores, refurbishing and streamlining it. In the first seven months of last year, 100 stores opened globally, including in Italy, while over the previous two years, 300 stores were closed in that country. The company said last year it was investing 50 million to 60 million euros, or $66.5 million to $80 million, a year in the refurbishment and the opening of stores.

Sales in 2014 totaled 1.63 billion euros, or $2.16 billion. This is a 2.2 percent rise compared with 1.6 billion euros, or $2.11 billion, in 2013.

The report also stated that Benetton sold its 2 percent stake in Brunello Cucinelli with a capital gain of 19 million euros, or $25.2 million.

Dollar figures were converted from the euro at average exchange rates for the periods to which they refer.


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