* Tension brewing between CEO Guerra and Luxottica
* Guerra credited with helping turn Luxottica into market
* Company says CEO, Chairman have been "debating best
(Adds sources, details, analyst)
By Stephen Jewkes and Valentina Za
MILAN, Aug 20 Luxottica, maker of
Ray-Ban and Persol sunglasses, could part ways with Chief
Executive Andrea Guerra due to disagreements over strategy with
founder and chairman Leonardo Del Vecchio, according to sources
close to the matter.
Three sources said Guerra, 49, who had helped the company
become world leader during his tenure, had fallen out with Del
Vecchio, 30 years his senior and Italy's second-richest man.
"It seems inevitable that he will leave," said one of the
Luxottica declined to address Guerra's future, but said in a
statement: "We can confirm that for some time Chairman Leonardo
Del Vecchio and CEO Andrea Guerra have been debating the best
strategic direction for the group."
It said no board meeting had been called for now.
Shares in the company were down 3.2 percent in afternoon
trade after falling as much as 7 percent on press reports that
Guerra might step down.
According to a person who knows Guerra and recently spoke to
Del Vecchio, relations between the two had soured in recent
months, especially after Guerra was tipped in February to become
a minister in the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
"There's been bad vibes between the two for a while now. Del
Vecchio did not like the fact that Guerra was offered a
ministerial position by Renzi and was considering taking it but
did not come fully clean about what was going on," the person
"That really incensed Del Vecchio. I'm surprised it's taken
so long to reach this point."
At the time, Guerra said in a statement he was "happy and
serene" at Luxottica. "I am staying here to do my job in this
Corriere della Sera daily also cited disagreements between
Guerra and Del Vecchio after Guerra's recent deal with Google
to design and market its Internet-connected
spectacles. It did not say what the disagreements were about.
Del Vecchio owns 66.5 percent of Luxottica, with fashion
designer Giorgio Armani holding another 5 percent.
Publicity-shy Del Vecchio, who rose to riches from humble
beginnings in a Milanese orphanage, hired Guerra in 2004 from
another family business, white goods maker Merloni
Elettrodomestici. It was a rare example of an Italian patriarch
picking an outsider to run a family company.
"He (Guerra) is a good manager, and the stock is reacting.
But the company was created by Del Vecchio, not Guerra," said
Roberto Lottici, a fund manager at Ifigest, who said he had
bought Luxottica shares on Wednesday morning.
Under Guerra, Luxottica has become a world leader in its
sector through innovation and international acquisitions,
including the purchase of U.S. sports eyewear firm Oakley in
2007, and signed licences to produce and distribute luxury
glasses for fashion brands ranging from Armani to Chanel.
Last year, the group had sales of 7.3 billion euros ($9.7
billion), up 43 percent from 2009 and more than double the level
in 2004, when Guerra took over as CEO.
The group has built a strong international presence - 96
percent of its retail sales came from outside of Europe, mostly
North America, in 2013 - and one of its main strengths is that
it has full ownership of companies along the supply chain.
Since Guerra became CEO, shares in Luxottica have nearly
tripled in value. A soft speaker who likes to keep a low
profile, he has a reputation of being a demanding boss and his
name has been mentioned as a possible successor to Sergio
Marchionne at the helm of Fiat.
"He'll give managers space early on, but then will start
imposing his own viewpoints. He has his own ideas on everything
and finds it very hard to change his mind. He'll defend his
ideas to the bitter end," said the person who knows him.
Citi analysts said in a note that if Guerra left, they did
not expect it would have much impact on the group in the short
"Luxottica appears to be firing on all cylinders at the
moment," the report said. "More importantly, Andrea Guerra has
created a very strong management team, and we see him as a very
capable director of the orchestra, rather than a one-man band."
($1 = 0.7522 euro)
(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Erica Billingham and Will