The family owners of Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo have held informal talks with financial investors to sell a minority stake in their holding firm as they seek to turn around the luxury brand and cope with the fallout of COVID-19, five sources told Reuters.
The company’s chairman Ferruccio Ferragamo, son of late founder Salvatore, held the talks some time after the summer, offering about a 20% stake in the holding vehicle that controls the Milan-listed business, banking and private equity sources said on condition of anonymity, as the matter is confidential.
A spokeswoman for the company - which has a market value of 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) - denied that the Ferragamo family planned to sell the stake.
The sources told Reuters that the family is still in the preliminary stages of testing market appetite, and that a deal might face resistance from investors since the family is not willing to give away any governance control.
Shares in Ferragamo were up 11% at 1428 GMT and were automatically halted from trading after Reuters first reported on the talks.
The Florentine leather goods brand saw its revenues plunge 60% in the second quarter, piling pressure on its family members - who control an overall 65% - to turn around the business.
“They have been calling around for a few months, targeting both private equity investors and sovereign wealth funds for a minority deal,” one of the sources said.
A stake sale to deep-pocketed financial investors would help resolve internal disagreements over the company’s turnaround strategy, allowing some of its family members to cash out, the sources said.
However, the Ferragamo family is not willing to give away any governance control, the sources said, making a deal less attractive for private equity investors who could alternatively buy more liquid shares on the market.
“Most investors would demand a big discount or at least some governance control to buy directly into the family holding rather than on the market,” one of the sources said.
Some sovereign wealth funds such as Singapore state investor GIC and Temasek, as well as the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), are also being targeted as possible investors due to their long-term investment strategy, the sources said.
Temasek teamed up with Dufry’s chairman Juan Carlos Torres in 2016 to buy a stake in the family holding of Italian luxury firm Moncler.
Founded in Florence in 1927, Ferragamo was listed on the Milan stock market in 2011 but remains very much a family company.
Salvatore Ferragamo, the eleventh of fourteen brothers, was born in a poor village of southern Italy in 1898.
As a teenager he emigrated to Boston to try his fortune there, and soon became famous as a shoemaker to the stars, including Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.
His heirs, including four surviving children and numerous grandchildren, are all invested in Ferragamo Finanziaria SpA, which owns 54.3% of the company. Other family members hold an additional 10.7%.
The high number of family investors has caused disagreements over strategy, the sources said, as the brand has been losing its shine in recent years.
But the COVID-19 pandemic complicated efforts by Chief Executive Micaela Le Divelec to revamp the business, with its stock falling more than 36% since January.
The family called back former boss Michele Norsa in May to help drive an operational turnaround, a move that was seen by some industry observers as a possible prelude to a full sale.