Cheat sheet: Everything you need to know about Natalie Massenet’s Net-a-Porter departure

NatalieMassenet

Nick Robertson might have stepped down as CEO of Asos this past week, but the e-commerce news from the UK that really grabbed global headlines was about Natalie Massenet leaving Net-a-Porter. The executive chairwoman of the luxury online retailer has resigned ahead of the company’s merger with Italian fashion group Yoox this October.

Massenet walks away with over £100m after selling her shares in the company, while Yoox founder Federico Marchetti will now run the new combined group.

Here’s what the industry had to say about the news:

  • First up, that it wasn’t a surprise. Lisa Armstrong at The Telegraph said the union with Yoox was always going to be an interesting marriage. “Think Lady meets the Tramp – with complications.”
  • WWD did a good job at outlining the tensions between the two companies, their founders and the plans for the merge. “Massenet was said to be against the idea of merging with Yoox from the start, with sources saying she fought against Yoox’s earlier attempts to buy Net. The two online retailers have distinctly different cultures — Yoox is no-frills and profit-driven while Massenet always considered Net-a-porter a luxury jewel focused as much on customer service and editorial content as product.”
  • The Business of Fashion similarly outlines reasons for the departure: that Richemont forced the deal on Massenet who wanted to keep Net-a-Porter independent; that Massenet and Marchetti have been long-term rivals; and that their cultures and management styles just aren’t compatible. Founder Imran Amed says he worries how the people behind both great businesses will respond when necessary changes up ahead are announced without Massenet’s leadership to help them through it. And what will that mean for maintaining the culture of Net-a-Porter too? Nonetheless, he adds: “Given that the conditions for the merger weren’t ideal to begin with, I guess it’s probably better for the combined business that Massenet has gracefully left at this stage, with amicable support from Marchetti, and that there is only one boss left. There will be no lingering tension or confused loyalties amongst the troops. The financial markets seem to think so: the Yoox share price surged five percent on the news of Massenet’s departure.”
  • Bloomberg agrees, calling it a blessing in disguise for the very fact it removes any confusion about who’s in charge and will help smooth the integration of the two businesses. Let’s not forget Net-a-Porter has always struggled to turn a profit, unlike its new bedfellow Yoox.
  • Yet Vanessa Friedman at the New York Times says Massenet’s departure may impact the image of the Net-a-Porter brand, if anything because she herself epitomised it. The company is losing its public face at a “time when branding-through-persona is increasingly important, be it for design houses, which are constantly thrusting their creative directors forward, sports brands or retailers,” she wrote. She added that whether luxury brands like Chanel and Tom Ford, both of which have recently agreed to selling on Net-a-Porter, will put the same trust in the site without the “constant reassurance” of Massenet’s presence, remains to be seen.
  • Carol Ryan at Reuters agrees: “[Massenet] has enviable industry contacts and a stellar individual reputation. The newly merged group may be easier to run with Yoox’s Marchetti as the single clear leader. But Yoox may well miss Massenet’s input.”
  • In another WWD story however, an analyst said Marchetti was going to be the one in charge if Massenet had stayed (he was to be CEO, and her executive chairman), and obviously he now will be without her. “So in this sense her exit changes nothing. There is perhaps the only risk of losing a more fashion and glamorous culture represented by Massenet and her story. But that attitude is not margin-friendly.”
  • As for the future, speculation and desires for Massenet’s plans span everything from stepping back into the publishing world from which she first came, even becoming successor to Anna Wintour at American Vogue, to heading into the start-up space. Massenet herself said: “After 15 extraordinary and exceptional years at The Net-a-Porter Group, the completion of the merger with Yoox Group is the right time for me to move on to explore new ideas and opportunities. The business I started in 2000 could not be in better shape today. Having joined forces with Yoox Group, the company will be bigger, stronger and superbly well positioned under Federico’s leadership to lead the industry and create the future of fashion. As for my own future, my entrepreneurial drive is as strong today as it always has been, and my passion for innovation will continue to be my greatest guide in business.” For more, take a read over at Business Insider, where the full email Massenet sent to her staff has also been published.
  • Meanwhile, this piece from Lorna Hall at WGSN, about three ways Nick Robertson disrupted fashion retail forever with Asos, is also well worth a read.