Annual shareholder meetings can be bone dry, but not so at LVMH. Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault gave a frank -- and sometimes funny -- talk in Paris on Thursday morning. So instead of twiddling my thumbs this afternoon, I decided to watch the English-dubbed webcast in its entirety. (If you're so inclined, you can do so as well on LVMH.com.) Here's what I learned. Or at least, here's how the translator interpreted Bernard Arnault's French:
On not selling luxury items online: "We are not going to be selling major luxury items on the Internet. But we can show them, make people desire them even more. That’s what it’s all about: making people desire our products."
On Marc Jacobs and the whole IPO thing: "Marc Jacobs wasn't even a $10 million company when we invested in it. Now it's making a billion euros a year in revenue. There are other designers we've invested in who haven't matched that type of performance. Perhaps they weren't as talented.... Marc Jacobs is the most emblematic designer in the United States. [An IPO could mean] that over the next five to 10 years one company could equal a third of the value of the group. You can see the kind of promise all of this holds." Arnault also alluded to Michael Kors' success on the stock market without actually naming the designer -- who used to, by the way, be the creative director of Celine -- inferring that MK's performance was a good indication of what Marc Jacobs could achieve.
On how LVMH is basically keeping the French government afloat: "Whenever I hear the people in the government say that it’s doing everything it can to help companies, I can say that we are doing everything we can to help France by creating economic growth and jobs. As an aside, we also pay a lot in taxes." In 2013, the company paid one billion euros in taxes to the French government.
On the importance of continuity: "This is our 25th general meeting of LVMH. It's difficult to have a political career that lasts that long, right?"
On the common-sense reason LVMH is so successful: "You always have to challenge yourself. My way of managing a company is managing it as if you're always in a crisis. If you operate otherwise, you're setting yourself up for a disaster. That means I'm always vigilant. When you work in a company that's doing so well, you must resist the temptation of becoming complacent and smug."
So there you have it, the world according to Bernard Arnault.