By Valentina Za
MILAN (Reuters) - Shares in Italy's Luxottica (LUX.MI) fell as much as 10 percent on Monday after the abrupt resignation of its second chief executive in as many months, fuelling concern over tensions at the top of the world's biggest eyewear group.
The maker of Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses announced on Sunday that co-CEO Enrico Cavatorta planned to leave - just six weeks after the unexpected departure of his predecessor, veteran Andrea Guerra, credited with expanding Luxottica abroad.
Luxottica provided no explanation for Sunday's departure. Sources familiar with the matter, however, blamed clashes with the company's founder, Leonardo del Vecchio.
Del Vecchio, Luxottica's chairman and single largest investor, has taken an increasingly active role in the company in recent months after a decade on the sidelines. The 79-year-old says the change is intended to prepare the company to be handed over to his children.
Del Vecchio, who has not detailed his succession plans, said last month that he had sacked Guerra after the chief executive disagreed with his planned management changes.
At around 1100 GMT (12 noon BST), shares in Luxottica were down 8.2 percent at just under 38 euros, after falling as much as 10 percent in early trade.
"Mr Cavatorta's resignation leaves us concerned about Luxottica's future and the majority shareholder's real intention regarding management independence," a Deutsche Bank note said.
Investors had seen Cavatorta's appointment in September as a guarantee of stability despite management differences - hoping Luxottica would continue on the path that has helped it more than double sales in 10 years to 7.3 billion euros (5.77 billion pounds). His departure rattled confidence, analysts said.
"After Guerra's departure, we believe Mr. Cavatorta's decision to leave the company should be seen as a big loss," JPMorgan analysts said in a note.
"He has played a critical role in the past 15 years for Luxottica's expansion and consolidation as the clear market leader in the eyewear segment."
Analysts at Citi cut their rating on the stock to "neutral" from "buy", citing an "unattractive" manager turnover rate.
"At 79, Mr Del Vecchio might have some room to reshape management, strategies and governance, but to attract long-term investors we believe he needs to embrace a stronger corporate governance culture," they said.
Following last month's management overhaul, Del Vecchio oversees production and heads an executive committee that was supposed to comprise the company's three top managers.
Del Vecchio, who has six children from three wives, controls Luxottica through holding company Delfin.
Del Vecchio said in Sunday's statement that he was considering a reorganisation of Delfin to improve separation between the holding firm and the management of companies it owns. He gave no details.
The company is set to report third-quarter results on Oct. 29. Analysts have said a strong dollar is set to lift revenues, as Luxottica makes more than half its sales in the States.
Luxottica said on Sunday that the company's chief operations officer, Massimo Vian, would step into the chief executive role on an interim basis.
(Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Clara Ferreira Marques)Board & Management ChangesInvestment & Company InformationLuxottica
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