CONCLUSION: We have a bifurcated view on RL right now. We like it from both a TRADE and TREND perspective, as expectations are too low headed into Wednesday's print, as RL guided to a msd decline in EPS, but in reality they’re going to post EPS growth of at least 1,000bps higher. Furthermore, the company will begin to show a meaningful acceleration in EPS growth over the next two quarters (near 30%) that should put it in the top decile of earnings growers in retail.
But from a TAIL vantage point, we're far less constructive. As much as we like how the company is executing on its long-term initiatives (international expansion, dot.com, and real estate), we're concerned about the recent changes in the C-suite. In the end, our degree of confidence in how the company will be executing three-years out is partially diminished.
So why are we concerned about management? Roger Farah shifting 50% of his time away from the company simply does not sit well with us. The fact is that Roger has been incredibly effective over the past decade. Ralph might be the CEO, but Roger has basically executed on everything that is outside of the creative side of the organization. Yes, it's a positive that the company still has him given that it was a risk that he'd leave entirely. But we just don't buy the concept of a part-time COO. The way we see it, you're ether in or you're out. It's like being half pregnant.
On the flip side, the promotion of Chris Peterson is a big positive. He's one of the top 5 retail CFOs we've met -- which says a lot. At P&G he was heavily responsible for parts of the organization outside that of a traditional CFO (and his division of P&G was 5x the size of RL).
Similarly, Jackie Nemerov, who was also promoted and reports directly to Ralph Lauren, is far more capable than many on Wall Street likely give her credit for. There's no one at the company (perhaps with the exception of Ralph himself) who has earned more respect and loyalty by her direct and indirect reports. In the end, as incredibly effective as Roger has been over the years, the reality is that some of that was likely Nemerov adding to the size of his halo.
Lastly, we need to consider Ralph Lauren himself. He's one of the more successful CEOs in retail, and has created one of the best brands in apparel. But we can't ignore the fact that he just turned 74. There's not a whole lot of CEO's in the S&P that are over 70. In fact, there are only 14 CEOs in America who are older than 74. Not that there is a set formula for when a person needs to stop working, but it’s worth noting that the average retirement age for CEOs is between 60-65.
We're not questioning Mr. Lauren's competence. How could we? But he's such a powerful force inside the company, and the likelihood of him being the boss in another five years -- at least in his current capacity -- is not too great. We don't have a problem with this at all. But where we're more concerned is that we're not sure the Board has any clear succession plans for Mr. Lauren. That's probably because the Chairman of the Board is also the CEO -- and he has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon.
In the end, there are two things that are certain; 1) The company is executing and has increasing momentum in its business, but 2) The company is undergoing the most significant period of transition in the executive offices that RL has seen since before 2000.