The Ice Man Cometh: PPR Dips Into Unilever For New CEO of Gucci

Pinault-Printemps-Redoute on Wednesday named Robert Polet as the new president and chief executive officer of Gucci Group.

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Robert Polet

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François-Henri Pinault

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Serge Weinberg

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AMSTERDAM — What do frozen fish and ice cream have to do with $8,000 crocodile handbags? Robert Polet is about to find out.

Pinault-Printemps-Redoute on Wednesday named Polet to replace Domenico De Sole as president and chief executive officer of Gucci Group, reaching, as widely expected, into a universe far from the realm of luxury goods. Currently president of Unilever’s $7.8-billion ice cream and frozen food division, the 48-year-old Dutch national assumes the helm of Gucci Group July 1, trading brands like Popsicle and Ben and Jerry’s for Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta.

“I’m very confident in Robert’s ability to face the challenges and be an extraordinary leader for our group,” Serge Weinberg, ceo of PPR, told WWD here before an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting called to discuss the French company’s $2.5 billion tender offer for the outstanding shares of Gucci. “He’s been very successful in business because of his talent to energize people.”

Polet’s appointment ends months of speculation and overshadowed the meeting, which was perfunctory. Polet, meanwhile, was being kept under wraps and not talking to the press from his office at Unilever in London.

Appearing confident and happy, Weinberg defended PPR’s decision to recruit from outside the fashion and luxury sector, insisting that to hire a brand manager would have been a mistake. He noted that De Sole himself had a background in law before joining Gucci. “The question is not about products. It’s about the talent. That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a specialist and we were not looking for a specialist.

“We were not looking for someone to do the job of our chief executives,” Weinberg continued, alluding to the prowess of Gucci brand ceo Giacomo Santucci and YSL chief Mark Lee and the group’s other brand chiefs. Weinberg will act as interim ceo of Gucci Group until Polet arrives. Weinberg said that Polet would start meeting with brand ceo’s ahead of his arrival this summer.

“Above all, what has been his distinctive feature is personal appeal. He has strong energy, he’s open-minded and he thinks outside the box,” Weinberg said, also citing Polet’s charisma, charm and intensity. “I think he’s very sensitive to people and that’s key.”
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