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New Hermès CEO Has Pretty Big Shoes to Fill

Patrick Thomas is officially out, leaving the thriving luxury goods company once again in the hands of a family member.
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Perhaps more than any heritage luxury brand out there, Hermès is dedicated to keeping control of the company within the family -- hence the elaborate defense it staged following LVMH's alleged attempts at a hostile takeover.

It makes sense therefore that the company's newest CEO, as of Monday, is Axel Dumas, a sixth generation member of the Hermès family. Dumas succeeds Patrick Thomas, the first ever non-relative to manage the company, who announced his plans to retire last May. Since then, Dumas acted as co-CEO alongside Thomas. Friday was Thomas's last day with the company, a rep for Hermès has confirmed.

Thomas took over the company following the retirement of the late Jean-Louis Robert Guillame Frédéric Dumas-Hermès in 2006, similarly becoming co-CEO a year before Dumas-Hermès retired. Thomas first joined the company in 1989, leaving from 1997 to 2003 for consecutive stints at Lancaster and whiskey company William Grant & Sons Ltd.

Thomas is perhaps most prominently known for his handling of the sticky battle with LVMH. He was aggressive, but only when the situation called for it. During this time, he proved his dedication to keeping Hermès a family company, despite not being an official family member, at least not by blood. He saw LVMH's gradual buildup of shares in Hermès as a threat to the family's controlling interest -- and unity.

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"This culture (of craftmanship and strong traditions) is hardly compatible with one of a big group," Thomas said back in 2010. "It is not a financial battle, it’s a cultural battle."

Last summer, Thomas called out Bernard Arnault for coming into his Hermès shares in "fradulent" ways. Ultimately, Hermès sued LVMH for insider trading and LVMH in turn sued Hermès for blackmail and false accusations. So far, Hermès has seemingly come out on top, with French market authority AMF taking its side.

Thomas also helped the luxury purveyor thrive during an uncertain economic climate by catering to the uber-wealthy and not sacrificing quality by outsourcing -- everything's still made in France. The company has seen rises in sales quarter after quarter. Thomas was one of only three luxury CEOs to make Harvard Business Review's list of the 100 best-performing CEOs last year.

According to the Globe and Mail, Thomas, who was given the option to hire another outsider, hand-picked Dumas as his successor, and describes him as "brilliant."