Yves Carcelle is often at his desk well before dawn. But before sitting down to an early-morning meeting in his Paris office, Carcelle, 54, invites a visitor to step on to the balcony and watch the sun rise over the Seine. "Isn't it beautiful?" he asks with a delighted grin.
That blend of hard work and joie de vivre serves Carcelle well as head of the fashion group at luxury giant LVMH Mo?t Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMHY). Overseeing LVMH's most valuable portfolio of brands, he must keep tight control over a global network of factories and stores--without snuffing out the creative spark that gives the luxury business its luster.
Carcelle is the logical person to guard LVMH's crown jewels. After Chief Executive Bernard Arnault hired him in 1990 to run Louis Vuitton, Carcelle turned the venerable luggage maker into the world's most profitable luxury brand. Using a strategy later emulated by rivals such as Gucci, he brought in new designers to spiff up Vuitton's styling and expand the product line, while terminating franchise agreements so that LVMH regained exclusive control of retailing. Last year, fueled largely by Vuitton, the fashion group accounted for nearly 30% of LVMH's $10.8 billion in sales--and more than 80% of its $1.4 billion operating profit.
Carcelle's challenge now is to fashion some new jewels from among LVMH's more recent acquisitions, such as Italian leather-goods company Fendi and U.S. apparel maker Donna Karan. But, he cautions, "revamping a brand takes time. I don't believe people who say they can do it in two years."
Fluent in English and Spanish as well as French, Carcelle spent nearly 20 years working in sales and marketing for consumer-goods companies before catching Arnault's eye with his successful turnaround of French textile brand Descamps. That experience and his easy charm make him as comfortable talking with shop managers and designers as he is conducting high-powered business negotiations with CEOs.
Carcelle is a fierce defender of his brands. He once bawled out a French government official attending a Vuitton store opening in Bangkok when he spotted her carrying a fake Vuitton bag. With that kind of attention to detail, this crown prince of luxury looks set for a long reign.