Injecting Youth Into the C-Suite

September 08, 2018

A 26-year-old running a 150-year-old company sounds crazy. At that age most have just started their careers, maybe still interning at a large and historic company. However, this is the age of the co-CEO at Rimowa, the LVMH-owned German luxury luggage company famous for its metal cases. The answer to how this young man became in charge of this heritage brand: his last name is Arnault.

Alexandre Arnault is the son of Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France and the CEO of LVMH. He graduated from Télécom ParisTech then went on to earn a masters of research in innovation from École Polytechnique. In 2016, after working at Groups Arnault for only three years, he was named co-CEO of Rimowa alongside Dieter Morszeck, the grandson of Rimowa’s founder. While his appointment is an example of nepotism, Arnault has proven himself to be extremely valuable to the luggage brand. The benefit of his young vision and ambition should be noted by other heritage brands.

With his millennial touch, Arnault led the rebranding of the historic luggage company to be relevant to younger travelers. Rimowa now has all the elements of a modern brand—a new minimal logo and visual language, strong social media effort, and experiential show rooms. The company also integrated tech into its products. Recently it launched electronic tags with E Ink display to make traveling easier and more aesthetic. Another accomplishment is the collaborations Arnault made between Rimowa and popular brands such as Fendi, Supreme and Off-White.

His success as co-CEO makes a case for other heritage companies to give more leadership responsibilities to younger people. Especially today when these companies are struggling to understand how to interact with youth, it makes sense to be guided by those in tune with the culture. Gucci, today’s superstar heritage brand, understands the value of the insights young people have. Marco Bizzari, the CEO, points out one reason for the brand’s success is the insight he gains from meeting with a committee of people under 30 to discuss the future of Gucci. Further, many of the upstarts that are threatening the heritage brands are founded and run by young CEOs. Michael Preysman and Jesse Farmer were 25 when they founded Everlane—the radically transparent clothing company. In 2010 Emily Weiss was 25 years old when she founded Into the Gloss, the website that four years later would become Glossier, the popular beauty company. Looking at the tech world, Mark Zuckerburg founded Facebook when he was 21, and Kevin System and Mike Krieger founded Instagram in their twenties. These entrepreneurs had youthful vision, optimism, insight and ambition that gave them the drive to embark on these enterprises.

Heritage brands especially should look at finding ways to integrate younger people in the C-suite. The co-CEO role provides an interesting opportunity to integrate a youthful vision into the strategy. If most CEOs are close to 50-years-old, they may not grasp the steps needed to create an attractive brand to a younger generation. That is where the younger co-CEO could help since they are more likely to recognize and make sense of the trends. It’s important to give him or her decision-making power but also having the more seasoned executives assist where there is lack of experience. There are lots of talented, smart, and capable young people out there who don’t have fathers naming CEOs, but who could very well do much needed service to a brand. If a heritage company wants to be bold they should find these talents and invite them to lead their companies into the future.