'I will not be blackmailed': Johann Rupert refuses to change Richemont board

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Johann Rupert (File/Getty Images)
Johann Rupert (File/Getty Images)

Richemont chairman Johann Rupert won't give in to activist shareholder Bluebell Capital Partners' campaign to overhaul the boardroom structure at the world's second biggest luxury group, he told Swiss newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft.

Cartier-owner Richemont on Monday recommended shareholders vote against Bluebell's proposal of Francesco Trapani as a board member representing investors holding A category shares. The company proposed one of its existing independent directors as a representative instead.

South African billionaire Rupert, who owns all the non-listed category B shares in the company, which represent 9.1% of the capital, but 50% of the voting rights, said there was no reason to change the board "either legally or morally."

"Our board may be slower and more conservative than others. But its openness and collegiality are exactly its advantage. I will not be blackmailed," he said in a rare interview.

Bluebell wants Richemont to concentrate on jewellery and watches, saying that could double its share price in the medium term.

Rupert said the board of directors took into account the interests of all the shareholders, whether they owned listed A share or unlisted B shares.

"I can assure you of one thing: I will not change our capital structure," he added.

Bluebell Capital's co-founder Giuseppe Bivona said the fund's campaign would continue as the board was not representing those bearing the greatest economic risk.

"Instead of offering a good argument against our requests, he has rejected it outright, without listening to the A shareholders. This is exactly why we want to change the representation on the board," Bivona told Reuters.

Rupert said Richemont was in a good position to survive the economic downturn and had a strong balance sheet.

"We've benefited from being prudent. It is extremely beneficial to have been conservative in the good times," he said, adding that its family-controlled structure helped it plan ahead.

Richemont, whose Swiss watch brands include IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, reported 12% higher sales in the three months to June, as strong demand in the United States and Europe offset a 37% drop in mainland China.

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