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Natalie Massenet's departure 'no surprise', say commentators

The Net-a-Porter offices will today be preparing for a new future following the loss of their second leader in just over a year. Natalie Massenet, who founded the business in 2000 and built it up into the powerful etailer it is today, has announced that she will be leaving the business, following chief executive Mark Sebba, who left in July 2014.

It emerged on Wednesday evening (September 2) that the MBE-awarded fashion entrepreneur, former Tatler journalist and 2014 Drapers Awards Fashion Retailing Personality of the Year had resigned and will no longer be taking up the role of executive chairman of the merged company, Yoox Net-a-Porter Group.

The merger of Italian etailer Yoox and Net-a-Porter was announced in March and it had been understood that the new online retail giant would be led by Yoox founder Federico Marchetti as chief executive, with Massenet at his side.

Despite Massenet’s pre-merger quit, many commentators from the fashion and ecommerce industry have not been surprised by the development.

Mathew Dixon, co-director of London-based recruitment firm Hudson Walker International: “I would imagine few people were surprised with her resignation, especially as the merger of the two companies appeared to give more operational control to Federico Marchetti. Net-a-Porter is renowned as a big supporter of emerging design talent so I could imagine her providing early stage investment and commercial support to fledgling labels or tech brands. However, I doubt that would be enough for her, especially as she has already publicly stated that she remains passionate about continuing to innovate. There certainly seems no logical reason for her to join another online retailer – why go and do more of the same in a lesser brand than Net-a-Porter? And her non-compete clause with Richemont prevents this for 12 months anyway.”

The managing director of one multichannel consultancy who asked not to be named: “The news that Natalie has left is really disappointing because she put so much into the business but something had to give and unfortunately it appears to have been her. The industry needs big personalities like Natalie and Nick Robertson [co-founder of Asos.com who also stepped down this week] who are product and customer-led so it’s a big loss. I think it will have been a case of personality and character clash and she may have felt her position wasn’t sustainable so for the good of the business she stood aside. I think Net-a-Porter will lose its Britishness now and become a much more international business. As for Natalie, someone who built something from nothing, I can’t see her going to join somewhere else. I think she’ll go down the own-label fashion route because she’s product-driven, knows the market and knows about good design.”

An analyst from Bank of America Merrill Lynch: “Is this unexpected? No - not in our view - we thought an exit, one way or the other, had become inevitable in coming months given the relentless PR campaign on certain press over the summer. It had been clear for some time that Natalie Massenet was not supportive of the Yoox tie-up and news flow relating to valuation challenges pointed to growing tension between Richemont and Natalie Massenet and some of the original founders that still owned 7% of the Net-a-Porter holding company. The peculiar nature of the 5-year agreement between Richemont and Net-a-Porter (whereby Richemont controlled Net-a-Porter but did not actually manage it in any way) resulted in action taken on the very first day this agreement was no longer binding and allowed Natalie Massenet to become one of the best-paid businesswomen in Europe. We also believe the rather limited official remit of her new responsibilities was telling. We repeatedly flagged the likelihood of volatility ahead of the merger - here it is. We believe the investment case is entirely unaffected: as we wrote, short term volatility ahead of the full merger provides entry opportunities and we make no change to our 12 month PO.”

American multinational banking and financial services corporation Citi: “Although the news is unexpected, we believe this is the natural evolution of the ongoing merger process with Yoox CEO and founder in charge of leading the merger. We note that Natalie Massenet’s appearances since the deal was announced were noticeably few. All in all, we see Natalie Massenet’s exit as a neutral event and believe the deal will go on. Her talent will be missed but at the same time integration might be much smoother. Following today’s antitrust clearance, Yoox now expects to finalise the transaction by October of this year.”

Shannon Edwards chief executive of fashion ecommerce site Styloko.com, which has worked with Net-a-Porter: “The best way for a Yoox and Net-a-Porter merger to thrive and fill the boots of its powerhouse status, is with a single boss and a single vision. Yoox may be a new name to some online shoppers, but the company has been around for 15 years, it has one of the internet’s largest catalogues of luxury products and has the experience running ecommerce for a number of luxury brands. They will not only fold in Net-a-Porter nicely, but they also have removed a large competitor from the market with this acquisition which will help them grow. Natalie Massenet has had a longer and more successful run than most tech industry founders and at some point it was always going to be time to move on.”

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