The Maus Frères conglomerate is set to take over full control of Lacoste SA, the licensing company that owns the trademark rights to the brand, after its recently elected chairwoman, Sophie Lacoste-Dournel, and other members of the Lacoste family agreed last week to sell their joint stake of 28 percent in the crocodile to the Swiss company.
The transaction should give Maus Frères a stake of more than 93 percent in Lacoste. The Swiss group has been patiently building up its ownership in the crocodile since its acquisition in 1998 of a 90 percent stake in Devanlay, the biggest licensee of the French brand, which already held a share of 35 percent in its licensor. The balance of Devanlay's shares is owned by Lacoste.
Maus Frères tried in vain to acquire more shares from the Lacoste family four years ago, reportedly offering at the time a valuation of €970 million for the brand. Its current bid values Lacoste at between €1 billion and €1.2 billion depending on the number of shares it can get.
At the end of October, the Swiss group persuaded Lacoste-Dournel's 68-year-old father and former chairman, Michel Lacoste, and several other shareholders to sell a stake of 30.3 percent in the company. Initially, Lacoste-Dournel insisted that she and eight other members of the Lacoste family would hold on to their shares. They looked for external financing or for a white knight to counter Maus Frères' offer, but balked at the conditions. In the end, Lacoste-Dournel said she was giving up for the sake of the company's unity of purpose. She said the sale of her shares was the best way to guarantee the stability of the group established by her grandfather, the tennis player René Lacoste, in 1933.
Maus Frères has deftly taken advantage of strong dissention within the Lacoste family in connection with a generational change at the head of the company. Michel and Sophie Lacoste had been embroiled in a bitter dispute when she was suddenly appointed as non-executive president by a new supervisory board in September. He described his 36-year-old daughter as insufficiently qualified for the job.
Through Devanlay, Pentland and its other licensees, Lacoste will probably generate wholesale-equivalent sales of around €1.8 billion this year, up from €1.6 billion in 2011. The U.S. is the biggest market for the brand, followed by France and China.
Maus Frères had sales of 5.3 billion Swiss francs (€4.4bn-$5.6bn) in 2011. Its properties include two other apparel brands, Aigle and Gant, which it bought in 2003 and 2009, respectively. It also owns a big Swiss department store chain, Manor, and two other retail chains specializing in sporting goods and do-it-yourself, Athleticum and Jumbo.