Image: YNAP

Following a months-long search for a new CEO for e-commerce fashion titan Yoox Net-a-Porter (“YNAP”), Richemont announced on Monday that Geoffroy Lefebvre will succeed Federico Marchetti. The Swiss conglomerate started its search with the help of a headhunting firm in February 2020 after Marchetti, who has spent 20 years at the forefront of the e-commerce space, revealed that he would leave the CEO post. On the heels of a nine-month search, Richemont, seemingly without an ideal external candidate, opted to promote from within, tapping Lefebvre to take over the day-to-day operations of YNAP, while Marchetti will remain as Chairman for the foreseeable future.

Little known outside of Richemont, Mr. Lefebvre holds two engineering degrees (from the Ecole Polytechnique Française and Télécom Paris Tech), as well as an MBA from INSEAD, and has spent the past 9 years rising through the ranks at the Group in roles ranging from director of operations for Vacheron Constantin to CEO of Baume & Mercier. Most recently, the budding young executive served as Richemont’s Group Digital Distribution Director, which has seen him work closely with both Mr. Marchetti and Richemont CEO Jérôme Lambert over the past 20 months. Before joining Richemont in 2011, initially as the Group’s director of industry, Lefebvre was an associate partner with business consultancy McKinsey & Co.

Described as a “great executor” by those who have worked with him, Geneva-based Lefebvre is expected to carry out the e-commerce strategy and vision that has been established by Mr. Marchetti since the Yoox founder took on the CEO role at YNAP in October 2015, immediately after the $6 billion mega-merger of the two e-commerce early-movers.

Marchetti, who initially ruffled feathers after the YNAP merger due to his leadership style, and the reportedly differing cultures between Yoox and the Natalie Massenet-founded Net-a-Porter, has helped to pioneer no shortage of innovation in the luxury e-commerce space – from launching B2B e-commerce flagship services back in 2006 (when he was still operating Yoox independently from Net-a-Porter) to pursuing headline-making Middle Eastern and Chinese joint ventures under the Richemont umbrella with Mohamed Alabbar’s Symphony Investments and Alibaba, in 2016 and 2018, respectively, in order to bring YNAP’s unique mix of editorial content and commercial operations to two valuable markets ahead of its competitors. 

Marchetti (left) and Lefebvre (right)

The Future of YNAP

TFL’s sources say that Richemont’s move to hire Lefebvre – a young and dedicated executive from within its own ranks, who has worked closely with Marchetti for nearly two years – bodes well for the future of YNAP, which could be in the midst of a larger transition in light of Richemont’s recent announcement that it would enter into a $1.1 billion deal with existing partner Alibaba and Farfetch, with the three respective big-wigs forming a “global strategic partnership” aimed at providing “luxury brands with enhanced access to the China market, [and] accelerating the digitization of the global luxury industry.”

The deal has brought speculation that it could be part of a larger multi-step transaction between the parties, namely, Richemont and Farfetch. However, Mr. Rupert has shot down predictions that the deal is a preliminary step in a takeover of Farfetch by Richemont. However, the company’s assertion that it will  “explore additional opportunities to work closely with Farfetch,” as cited in the parties’ November 5 release, does not rule out quickly-growing Farfetch taking a controlling stake in YNAP from Richemont, as previously cited by Bernstein analyst Luca Solca, or maybe more likely, the two parties hatching a technology-centric joint venture, potentially in 2021. 

A tech-focused venture would make sense, given YNAP’s increased capital expenditures on technology and logistics, including an ambitious – and difficult – migration onto a new technology platform, which have cut into Richemont’s cashflow. 

Speaking specifically about the strength of the YNAP business now, Mr. Rupert said on a call with reporters early this month that the newly-formed partnership with Farfetch does not signal a lack of confidence in YNAP, which in its role as the world’s largest multi-brand luxury retailer by revenue, operates e-commerce brands Net-a-Porter, Mr. Porter, Yoox and The Outnet, and maintains partnerships that see it provide B2B services that enable luxury brands, such as Valentino, Kering-owned Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta, Moncler, Armani, and Alaia, among others, to “power their own e-commerce destinations.”

Mr. Rupert stated this month that despite a difficult Q1 (which ended on June 30) due to the COVID-related closure of YNAP’s warehouses across the globe, Richemont’s “Online Distributors” category, YNAP included, “grew” during Q2.

As for Mr. Marchetti, who the New York Times has characterized as “the man who put fashion on the net,” and who the New Yorker said “has had more to do with bringing e-commerce to fashion than anyone else” both in connection with his Yoox venture and thereafter, as the chief of YNAP, his contract with YNAP is set to expire in 2021, WWD previously reported. As of now, he will remain in the chairman role, noting in the “Cyber Monday” release that in light of the twentieth anniversary of the Yoox and Net-a-Porter group, “it is a fitting moment to kick-start the hand over and I look forward to working with [Lefebvre] as Chairman during the transition period.”

At the same time, Giorgio Armani S.p.A. announced in July that Mr. Marchetti would join the Italian fashion brand as a non-executive director on the board. A close read into that announcement, which revealed that Marchetti is the first – and only – non-family member to be part of the board, may suggest that Marchetti is destined for a more significant role at Armani, and may even be in the running to succeed 86-year old Mr. Armani, who currently holds the position of CEO and Chairman of the board of the 45-year old company.

In Monday’s release, Mr. Rupert called Marchetti “a visionary entrepreneur,” with “relentless passion, energy and drive,” and the “vision that has prevailed since 2000 and has inspired so many.”

Mr. Lefebvre’s new tenure begins immediately.