LVMH says Louis Vuitton CEO quits over ill health

PARIS Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:18pm GMT

A street vendor walks past a Louis Vuitton luxury boutique in Istanbul November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

A street vendor walks past a Louis Vuitton luxury boutique in Istanbul November 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal

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PARIS (Reuters) - Louis Vuitton's new chief executive has quit suddenly from the helm of luxury group LVMH's (LVMH.PA) top brand because of health reasons, LVMH said on Tuesday.

The world's largest luxury company said Jordi Constans would be replaced by Michael Burke, chief executive since February of Bulgari, the Italian jeweller that LVMH added to its stable last year.

LVMH said Constans' sudden departure after less than a month was due to the discovery of a "significant health issue which requires that Mr Constans focus on this priority".

Group CEO Bernard Arnault added in a statement that Burke had "enormous experience" and "knows Louis Vuitton well".

Louis Vuitton, which is the world's biggest luxury brand in terms of sales, with revenue of more than 7 billion euros ($9.25 billion), makes up about 75 percent of the fashion and leather sales of LVMH.

A dual French-U.S. citizen, Burke was CEO of Christian Dior USA from 1986 to 1993, when he took charge of Louis Vuitton North America, becoming deputy CEO of Christian Dior Couture worldwide in Paris in 1997.

Following the acquisition of Fendi by LVMH in 2003, he was appointed CEO.

One trader said the unexpected news of the change at the top of Louis Vuitton could have a negative impact on the group's shares when trading resumes on Wednesday.

"This is a very sudden announcement, which could have a disruptive impact on everyday operations, given Constans has been on the ground for a few months now and that Burke, even if he has been in the LVMH group for a while, is not a specialist of Louis Vuitton and needs time to learn more about the brand," he said.

He added, however, that Yves Carcelle, previously head of Louis Vuitton for more than 20 years, was still part of LVMH and should provide support during the management transition.

One analyst pointed to Burke's experience at LVMH as a positive.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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