Family Business Office Focuses On …


In our first of a series of focus on World Family Business Leaders we take a look at Axel Dumas (born 3 July 1970) who is a French billionaire heir and business executive. He is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Hermès, and a sixth-generation member of the Hermès-Dumas family.

It all started with Thierry Hermès, an orphan, skilled with leather — so skilled, in fact, that his main clients in the 19th century were royal families. Six generations later, the Hermès family — and brand — is now known for its exclusive Parisian fashion house and a $49.2 billion fortune.

At the head of Hermès today are two cousins: Pierre-Alexis and Axel Dumas. Both are co chairmen of the brand. In addition, Axel is the CEO, and Pierre-Alexis is the company’s creative director, whose father, Jean-Louis, revolutionized Hermès, growing it into an international luxury retailer. Thierry Hermès, who was highly skilled with leather, opened a shop in Paris in 1837.

The shop window of the Hermès store in Paris in December 1945. AFP/Getty Images Source: Vanity Fair

Hermès, at the time, specialized in saddles, taking precise measurements for horses and riders. Hand-stitched saddles took months to make. Perfection was expected every single time because many Hermès clients were European royalty, such as Napoléon III. The fourth generation of Hermès was synonymous with the Dumas family. Robert Dumas took the head executive and artistic role in 1951 after the death of his grandfather, Émile-Maurice Hermès. After Robert Dumas died in 1978, his son, Jean-Louis Dumas, took the leadership role, a position he would keep for nearly three decades, transforming the company’s financials from extreme lows to over $1 billion.

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Under the helm of Jean-Louis Dumas, in a seven-year period in the 80s, Hermès saw sales grow from $82 million to $446.4 million. Jean-Louis Dumas not only diversified Hermès to include clothing and jewelry but also steered the company toward opening global operations and stores in a handful of countries. Today, there are over 300 stores in the world.

In typical Hermès fashion, Jean-Louis Dumas handed off the reins of the luxury house to his son Pierre-Alexis Dumas, now 52, who was named artistic director in 2002. Axel Dumas, nephew of Jean-Louis Dumas, joined Hermès in 2003 and was appointed CEO in 2014. He is one of a dozen heirs of Thierry Hermès with a controlling stake in the company. “Axel is financial and very charismatic, more like my father, with a strong commercial vision,” Pierre-Alexis Dumas said of his cousin’s role at Hermès in 2013.

“Our business is about creating desire,” Axel Dumas said in a 2014 interview with Forbes. “It can be fickle because desire is fickle, but we try to have creativity to suspend the momentum.” But creating desire is just half of the equation. When Axel Dumas took charge of Hermès, he also increased the production of its handbags. In 2014, Hermès sales grew to more than $4 billion, a notable feat Dumas credits to its increasing output of leather goods. Things never came easy for the Dumas family however…

Appointed in the midst of a dramatic family feud, Axel Dumas has guided Hermès International through a series of heated legal battles – achieving record profits along the way. Dumas’ leadership has been defined, more than anything else, by his role in the infamous rift between his own family and the extravagantly wealthy Arnault family, which owns a majority stake in the $130bn (€110.3bn) Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) luxury conglomerate. The intertwined business dealings of the families only recently came to a close in April, when LVMH relinquished its final share in the Hermès enterprise. The move marked the end of seven years of fraught business dealings between the two families.

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