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French family feud erupts at clothing firm Lacoste

AFP  Paris, October 03, 2012
First Published: 11:21 IST(3/10/2012) | Last Updated: 11:22 IST(3/10/2012)

A family feud at the top of the Lacoste clothing company is pitting father against daughter in a battle for management of the green crocodile brand.

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Michel Lacoste, 69, has decided to seek a court ruling against the company board's nomination of Sophie Lacoste-Dournel as non-executive president, which he told the daily Le Monde was an "irregular" decision "by an irregular board."

Lacoste told Le Monde that his 36-year-old daughter, who has studied business and loves theatre and acting, "hasn't spent a day of her life in a business and is not able to manage a successful company."

He would prefer that his niece, Beryl Lacoste-Hamilton, 56, take over and points out that she has already run several of the company's licenced affiliates, which sell a wide range of casual clothes.

The Lacoste group declined to comment on the matter when contacted by AFP.

Sophie Lacoste-Dournel was named last Monday by a board elected the same day, which her father claims was stacked against him by a minority shareholder.

She said in a statement that "in giving me their confidence, Lacoste shareholders and members of the management board have validated my project for the company."

The new executive also expressed "great pride at having been chosen to lead the process of generational transition," and be the "guarantor of the family's values with respect to shareholders, the company, its staff and partners."

Lacoste-Dournel has been a member of the board since 2005.

Her father charges that the Swiss group Maus, which owns a 35 percent stake in the French company and has three voting members on the board, "convinced half my family to form an alliance with it to take control."

The Lacoste family owns 65 percent of the clothing retailer's equity and has five votes on the board, which also includes three independent members, one of which was Patrick Thomas, head of the luxury goods company Hermes.

Thomas has now given up his seat on the Lacoste board, Hermes told AFP on Friday, confirming information that initially appeared in the French business magazine Challenges.

Thomas had backed Michel Lacoste and his niece Beryl, Challenges said.

The board decided last week not to renew Lacoste's mandate as chairman and replaced him with Loic Armand, president of the cosmetics group l'Oreal France, a move that Lacoste is also challenging.

Lacoste told Le Monde he was "saddened by the weakness and incompetence of family shareholders who were seduced by mirages."

He was named chief executive of the company in 2005, replacing his brother Bernard, and remained as chairman of the board until 2008 when Christophe Chenut was chosen to run the company.

The iconic Lacoste brand was founded in 1933 by tennis champion Rene Lacoste, and posted 2011 sales to retailers of 1.6 billion euros ($2.1 billion).

Its business model is based on licences sold to companies which then pay royalties to the group.


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