Francesco Trapani’s new job at LVMH and the optics of image

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Bet corridors were buzzing over at Hermès on Monday when LVMH announced Francesco Trapani, the executive who engineered the sale of Bulgari to the French group and was then elevated to head of LVMH’s Watch & Jewellery division, the better to ease the family company’s incorporation into the LVMH fold, was stepping aside. (That’s him, left, with former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, currently the face of Bulgari.) Mr Trapani is to become a “senior adviser” to LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, and keep his seat on the board.

LVMH didn’t say much about the move, other than to suggest the decision had been Mr Trapani’s, and that it was prompted by Bulgari’s successful integration – ie, his operational job was done. In the press release, though there was a quote from Mr Arnault about Mr Trapani’s contribution, Mr Trapani himself did not say anything at all, which was a little weird.

Interestingly, Mr Trapani’s predecessor as head of the Watch & Jewellery division, Philippe Pascal, also became a “special adviser” to Mr Arnault when Bulgari was acquired and Mr Trapani was elevated to his job. Mr Pascal left the company under a year later.

Perhaps more notably, however, the omission of comment from Mr Trapani in the announcement has the potential to set all sorts of alarm bells ringing off in Hermès headquarters (Hermès not being prone to give LVMH the benefit of the doubt). LVMH, as we all know, owns 23.1 per cent of Hermès, a development that so freaked out the Hermès family members, who smelled a takeover attempt (LVMH denies it), they created a special share structure to prevent it.

Hermès says the LVMH values are not their values, which have to do with family and slow pace and artisanship. LVMH says that’s not true: they want to use their power to preserve family-run companies and their know-how (their recent acquisition of Loro Piana being a case in point). And therein lies the Trapani rub.

After all, Mr Trapani was a Bulgari family member: he is the great-grandson of the founder; his mother is Lia Bulgari. And now, though he’s still part of the LVMH fold, he’s pretty far removed from day-to-day decisions about the brand his progenitors built.

Whatever the reason for the decision, for a group trying to sell themselves as family-friendly, it seems to me here the optics are not great. It might have behooved LVMH to explain it more, or at least have Mr Trapani say he is looking forward to taking up his new role and is confident about Bulgari’s future with LVMH, etc etc (you know the drill). At least if massaging LVMH’s image as the thick-skinned elephant in the industry is part of the plan.

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Biver, president of Hublot, is to become head of LVMH’s watch brands, and Antonio Belloni, group managing director, will head up the jewellery houses. Both are long-standing LVMH execs. To be fair, they didn’t make a statement in the announcement about their new responsibilities either.That’s sort of keeping it in the family, I guess.