Richemont head Rupert to take a year off

Chairman of Cartier parent wants ‘control of his time’

Richemont’s chairman and founder, Johann Rupert, is to take a 12-month sabbatical from the Swiss luxury goods company that he created out of his father’s sprawling business empire.

The decision comes two months after the 62-year-old South African stepped down from his third stint as chief executive, appointing Bernard Fornas, the former head of Cartier – Richemont’s largest brand – and Richard Lepeu, who was previously deputy chief executive, as his successors.

Mr Rupert, who remains Richemont’s controlling shareholder, said he would return, but wanted to have a break after 25 years of building up the luxury goods group, which owns a variety of brands ranging from watchmakers, such as Piaget, to fashion marques, such as Chloé.

“I just want to be the master of my own time for a while,” he said. “It is ironic someone in the watch business should not be in control of his time.”

Mr Rupert’s sabbatical will start after the company’s annual meeting in September. Deputy chairman Yves-André Istel will chair board meetings in his absence.

Mr Rupert’s departure comes with the luxury goods industry adjusting to a slowdown in demand from China, following a crackdown on corruption and ostentatious consumption by Xi Jinping, the country’s new president.

Richemont has weathered this squall better than most, and announced today that revenues for the year to March 31 reached €10.2bn, up 14 per cent on the year before.

Net profit grew faster still, climbing 30 per cent to €2.01bn, or €3.60 per share. Richemont said the increase was largely due to the non-recurrence of non-cash charges relating to the strengthening of the Swiss franc that it had booked the year before.

At Richemont’s year-end, its net cash balance stood at €3.2bn, and in the absence of attractive acquisition targets, the company plans to return more cash to shareholders. The payout this year will be SFr1 per share, an increase of 82 per cent on 2012.

Richemont said that “despite the slowdown in the Asia-Pacific region and continuing uncertainty in the world economy”, sales were up 13 per cent year-on-year in April. The group cautioned that it would be wrong to give too much weight to one month’s data, but added it was looking to the future “with a degree of optimism”.

Analysts at Citi said the April figures were “reassuring”, and called Richemont’s outlook “unusually optimistic”, adding that they maintained their buy rating on the stock.

Shares in the company were up 6.5 per cent at SFr87.90 in afternoon trading in Zürich.

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The announcement that came along with Richemont’s 2012 annual results this morning that chairman Johan Rupert (left), is taking a year off from running the world’s second biggest luxury company starting this September is by far, to me at least, the most interesting part of the statement. For a man who has built the largest watch and jewellery Group to take a year off at age 62 – which, let’s face is not so old — at a time when the exponential growth trajectory of the luxury sector has started to slow is a little, well, surprising. And leads to all sorts of interesting speculation.