My four years with Christian Audigier and what I learnt from the man.
Updated: Nov 14, 2018
When I joined CA as the CEO of Ed Hardy, in 2008, I had never worked for anyone before. The Iconix judgment against me was on appeal, I was 56 and did not feel like starting anything new. It turned out that CA was the most interesting character I ever worked with. He taught me how to enjoy life better, and not take everything so seriously. He would laugh at the intensity I brought to everything I did.
He was NOTHING like his public image. He hated going to parties, never wore anything flashy, a Ralph Lauren man all his life. He was the first person, I ever worked with, who got to work earlier than me. He got to the office at 6:30 AM every day and started with a workout (and a tanning session in the machine. I must admit that I had a session myself once). Lunch at 1:00 every day prepared by his private chef, he would share it with his gang. I rarely joined in, but, without fail every day, he would send someone to let me know lunch was ready. He would leave around 5:00, had dinner with his kids at 6:30, then a little TV, then bed.
CA was a very smart and solid man. Simple and linear brilliance, in the way of French peasants, he trusted his instincts, rarely second guessing himself and always enjoyed every minute of every day.
He loved being in love, and he loved the women in his life with passion, and he was also wearing it on his sleeves. He was not embarrassed by his vulnerabilities, he had an intuitive sense for human weaknesses, he was never fooled, he just accepted people the way they were.
He never held a grudge, every day was a new day and if he decided he liked someone, then there was almost nothing that person could do to lose his affection. He would just laugh when someone was trying to abuse his affection.
He was loyal to a fault, when I joined everyone has been there from the beginning, and sharing in the success. To many of the early licensees, the endeavour was their first success story, CA was aware that he had transformed their lives, and he was not only proud of it, he was sincerely happy to have made a difference.
The best proof of his business acumen is that even though, he had no working capital and intended to make only T shirts, hats and Hoodies, he secured the master license for a very low royalty percentage (3%), AND the right to sub-license ANY product. He understood the potential and made sure he positioned himself to benefit from it. This of course created the seller's remorse that led to the lawsuit I later settled.
Once he started his own businesses in the US, CA took celebrity marketing to a new high. Every celebrity wore his clothes and loved being involved with him.
He retained many people whose sole function was to bring in celebrity.
in 2008, he asked me to join as the CEO of Ed Hardy, with the mission to prepare the company for a sale, as the brand was weakening.
I explained that nobody would buy the company as long as the lawsuit with Ed Hardy was not out of the way, and settling this lawsuit, is the first task I accomplished, with the legal team led by Jim Turken, a very savvy legal mind. Don Ed Hardy graciously mentioned it in his book.
The second task was to reorganize the corporate structure to minimize tax liability on a sale. I converted the companies from C corps to LLC to avoid double taxation, and segregated the licensing activity for the manufacturing, to enhance the value of each stand-alone division.
CA had worked for my brothers Gerard and Paul, so I had known him for many years but never gotten close to him.
His success was not a fluke, he was a great creative mind who figured out where society was and what would resonate with the time, he had been instrumental in the success of many brands before, directly or through the design company he had in Europe..
I always stress that I had nothing to do with the success of Ed Hardy, by the time I joined, in October 2008, CA and his nephew Vincent had already created a very successful company. They needed me to organize a safe landing for the company that had grown very fast, and now was getting past its peak.
Once we were on the same page, he never interfered with or question in any way what I was doing. I on the other hand made sure he had the exact same information I had at all time. Having a daily dashboard, is very current, what differentiate mine, is how granular they are, every day, all the raw data from every department, would be exported automatically to a file I designed and my assistants would fill the rest. There was not a single questions about the Company that was not answered in the two sided tabloid daily sheet. He loved knowing everything.
He called me at 6:00 AM one morning and asked if I could start that day at 8:00 and I did.
I sold the business to Iconix, and closed the 45 stores we had at the time. Mission accomplished.
We had a solid relationship by then, and while we moved on, I made a point of staying always available to help with anything he needed. He had said to me one day: "toi et moi c'est a la vie a la mort" a friendship commitment for life. I was happy to live by that rule.
I was with him,Vincent and his wife, when the specialist at Cedars Sinai, confirmed the terrible diagnosis. I saw the man within 1 hour go from mental anguish and despair, to fighting mode, explaining how he would beat this thing, like he overcame everything else in his life. He fought well, a losing battle. He lost his life, but never lost his spirit.