Italy's Benetton group names new boss to help revive brand

MILAN, April 5 (Reuters) - Italian clothing group Benetton has named a fashion industry expert as its new boss to help revive its brand in the face of growing competition from rivals such as Swedish retailer H&M and Inditex’s Zara.

The group, whose sales have suffered in recent years, said in a statement on Wednesday that Tommaso Bruso would become chief operating officer while Chief Executive Marco Airoldi - a former partner at Boston Consulting who took the helm at Benetton in 2104 - was stepping down.

A source close to the matter said Bruso, currently in charge of the U.S. unit of Italian clothing group Diesel, would effectively replace Airoldi to revamp Benetton’s labels and the group’s franchising network.

Benetton, fully owned by the eponymous family through their Edizione holding, has had more than half a dozen chief executives in the past 15 years. Airoldi had focused on overhauling the structure of the company, separating the real estate business from the core activities of the group.

The company, which has 5,000 stores around the world, in 2013 embarked on a restructuring plan aimed at cutting down losses and retaking its place amongst forefront fashion brands.

Famous in the 1980s and 1990s for its colourful jumpers and controversial advertising campaign, Benetton has failed to keep up with the rapid expansion of trendier rivals such as Zara, which woos clients with fast-changing, affordable collections inspired by catwalk fashion.

In the latest financial statement available the group reported a 1.2 percent drop in 2015 sales to 1.53 billion euros and a 46 million euro loss for the year.

Before joining Diesel, Bruso was the CEO for North America at Italian handbag and accessories maker Furla.

The chairman of Edizione, Gilberto Benetton, said last year the group was not looking for investors but may list again in a few years, after de-listing in 2012. (Reporting by Elisa Anzolin, writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Susan Thomas)