Richemont’s two centres of power, and Brait’s road to recovery
Newly appointed Richemont CEO Jérôme Lambert does not have CFO Burkhart Grund report to him
It is odd not having a CFO report directly to a CEO, but this is exactly what Luxury brands group Richemont has put in place.
Newly appointed CEO Jérôme Lambert does not have CFO Burkhart Grund report to him. Instead, like Lambert, Grund reports directly to the Johann Rupert-chaired board.
Besides not having Grund report to the CEO, the CEOs of two of its most notable subsidiaries, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels are also reporting directly to the board.
On a recent conference call, Grund defended these moves. He said the management of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels could give the board some considerable insights, as they were “ahead of the curve” when it came to figuring out what the market wanted.
As for why the CFO should report to the board, rather than the CEO, Grund said it was to provide “checks and balances”.
This move by Richemont ties into an ongoing debate about governance and reporting structures in the corporate world when it comes to who should report to whom. There are those who argue that having a CFO report directly to the board would give it greater oversight. This means that information would not just be channelled through one person, the CEO, to the board.
The counter-argument is that it creates two centres of power in the business. If a CEO for instance, tells the CFO to “fund this, will this instruction be followed or will they have to arm wrestle over it at a board meeting?
Only time will tell if Richemont made the right move.
Brait, the investment holding company that lost its lustre over the last two years following its acquisition of British retailer New Look, appears to be on the road to recovery according to its most recent financial results.
New Look, acquired for R14.2bn over three years ago, has exacted a heavy toll on Brait. The company began writing down the value of its investment almost immediately after acquiring the business due to declining sales and margins, which forced Brait to write-down the entire value of its investment.
While the company’s other three principal investments — the Virgin Active gym network, Premier Foods and UK budget food retailer Iceland Foods — all held up fairly well in tough trading conditions, it is New Look that offers the company a meaningful chance of recovering the 77% drop in value Brait’s share price has undergone in the last two years.
Were Brait to be successful in lifting New Look’s value back to the $1.2bn it paid for it, the company’s net asset value would increase 60%. While New Look more than doubled its operating profit for the six months ending September, its sales continue to fall as the chain reduces the number of franchisee stores.
Even with declining sales, Brait has one more trick up its sleeve to increase after-tax profits at the retailer. After establishing a special-purpose vehicle in 2017 with Brait’s controlling shareholder, Christo Wiese, the firm managed to acquire 18% of New Look’s publicly traded bonds. According to one analyst, the company could convert the bonds to equity, thereby reducing New Look’s hefty finance charge, which might push it further into the black.
That would certainly be a welcome start for most shareholders.