March 13, 2019 / 1:11 PM / 9 months ago

Del Vecchio wants to split powers with aide as EssilorLuxottica seeks CEO

MILAN (Reuters) - The top shareholder in EssilorLuxottica sought to ease concerns over governance at the merged Franco-Italian group on Wednesday by saying he would not insist on his right-hand man becoming chief executive of the combined company.

FILE PHOTO: Lens producers Essilor' s logo is seen in an optician shop in Paris, France, March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

Italy’s Luxottica and France’s Essilor merged last October to create the world’s biggest producer of spectacles and lenses. Analysts say the division of power at the group is unclear and that tensions could undermine the integration process.

The group has just launched the search for a new chief executive, to be appointed by the end of next year.

Leonardo Del Vecchio, the founder of Luxottica who is now the largest shareholder and the executive chairman of the combined group, had appeared to indicate in November that he wanted his right-hand man Francesco Milleri to get the CEO job - a prospect that has irked the French side.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Del Vecchio, 83, said his November comments “shouldn’t be interpreted as his desire to appoint Francesco Milleri as CEO of EssilorLuxottica.”

The spokesman added that Del Vecchio, who has 32 percent of EssilorLuxottica, wanted to transfer some operational functions to Milleri, so that he could focus more on strategic matters.

The governance issue came back into focus on Wednesday after a Financial Times report said the French and Italian sides were pushing their own candidates for the top job.

Milleri started off as an IT consultant to Luxottica and grew closer to Del Vecchio over the years, eventually becoming the billionaire founder’s most trusted aide and CEO of the Italian company.

The spokesman said giving additional powers to Milleri now would not alter the balance of power with the French side of the group and would not affect the search for the new CEO. Under the terms of the merger, Del Vecchio and Essilor CEO Hubert Sagnieres are sharing powers for the first three years.

“(Del Vecchio’s holding) Delfin wants to respect all the merger agreements,” the spokesman said.

EssilorLuxottica declined to comment.

Analysts said the group should urgently define a clear leadership.

“It is essential for the execution of the plan. We think this should be a priority and cannot wait until 2020,” said analysts at broker Equita in a note.

Reporting by Claudia Cristoferi; editing by Silvia Aloisi and Keith Weir

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