Net-A-Porter's Founder and Executive Chairman Abruptly Resigns

Net-A-Porter's Founder and Executive Chairman Abruptly Resigns

Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet.

Image credit: Reuters | Toby Melville

Natalie Massenet, founder and executive chairman of online fashion group Net-A-Porter, said on Thursday it was the right time to leave after she resigned abruptly ahead of the completion of a planned merger with Italy's Yoox.

Regarded as the fashion visionary of the soon-to-be-combined business, she was to become its executive chairman and oversee editorial content, one of Net-A-Porter's main strengths.

Massenet, who pocketed this year more than 100 million pounds ($153.09 million) as part of a deal with Net-A-Porter's controlling shareholder Richemont, said it was time for her to move on to explore new ideas and opportunities.

A friend of Massenet, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had returned from holiday last week and had not warned anyone about her plan to step down.

"It was a personal decision based on deep reflections during her long summer holiday about what she wanted to do with her life now," the person said.

He said that the prospect of leading a listed company, with all the obligations it entailed, did not excite her as much as other projects she had in mind.

He said she would not receive a pay-out on top of what was in her contract or the money she received as part of her agreement with Richemont and for selling her remaining Net-A-Porter stake.

The merger, announced in March and expected to complete next month, will create a leader in the fast-growing online luxury market with combined sales of more than 1.3 billion euros.

Some industry insiders said the writing was on the wall as Massenet and Federico Marchetti, the head of Yoox who will lead the new company, had very different personalities and Massenet may have foreseen the potential for clashes.

The two had already locked horns last year when initial merger talks collapsed, sources close to the two companies said.

As a result, Massenet's exit was not a complete surprise as she would have taken a back seat in the new group, with Marchetti as CEO. One Milan trader said her departure removed any risk of conflict between the two.

Yoox's shares, which have fallen recently alongside other luxury and fashion stocks because of concerns over the Chinese economy, rose 5.2 percent to 27.9 euros by 0440 ET, outperforming a rising luxury sector.

Marchetti and Massenet were not available for comment and Net-A-Porter declined to comment.

Analysts said the resignation of Massenet, a highly regarded figure in the fashion world and chairman of the British Fashion Council, was a blow for the new group.

"The loss of her ties with the luxury industry should be seen as a critical negative," JP Morgan said in a note. The U.S. bank said this was not just because of the implications for the merged group but also because it might reduce the likelihood of a luxury company coming in as a strategic investor in a capital raising following the merger.

Richemont, which owns jewelers Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, agreed in March to sell Net-A-Porter to Yoox in an all-share deal that valued it at the time at around 950 million pounds. Richemont was awarded 50 percent of the combined company's share capital as part of the deal.

Since then, an independent arbiter gave Net-A-Porter a much higher valuation which minority shareholders such as Massenet could use to argue that their stake was worth more.

Yoox said on Wednesday the merger had received all required anti-trust clearances and expected it to be finalised next month.

(Additional reporting by Francesca Landini and Andrea Mandala, editing by Jane Merriman)

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