My first acquisition, at age 22, DuQuet Jewelers, a leading fine jeweler in Michigan, once counted 5 locations and manufacturing and shop facilities for the mall-based chain jewelers.
From Toronto, Canada. Vin Lee is the perfect personification of the American Dream. The entrepreneur was born in Toronto, Canada, but soon moved to the US. Today, he is a public figure and a legend himself as the CEO of Grand Metropolitan privately-held $7 billion in luxury goods. Grand Metropolitan, a holding company with a 120 legacy brand portfolio, is a multinational corporation founded in the 80’s and based in Beverly Hills. Extremely well known to the luxury world, Lee spends his time between South Florida & Southern California.
IR – How was your start in the US before ending-up with a net worth of $7 billion in luxury goods?
VL – I first visited Los Angeles in the 1980’s when they were preparing for the 1984 Summer Olympics. At that time Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Collection first opened with 45 luxury boutiques in the heart of Rodeo Drive across from idyllic men’s fashion icon Bijan. I had the opportunity to study fine art at the California Institute of Arts (previously I studied art at Oakville in Toronto) and toured the campus at that time. Southern California, specifically Beverly Hills and Bel Air, certainly made a lasting impression on me.
IR – Your design and earned patents were your “Open Sesame” to the world of luxury goods, celebrities, and the entertainment industry. Tell us when the access to public figures and the movie industry started?
VL – I started in business in the 1980s with patents I earned and designed initially for Wayne Huizenga’s Blockbuster Entertainment. Cinemagic Marquee patented technology participated in founding the $6 billion/year electronic display industry. Leading advertising and entertainment companies around the world including Universal Studios, Regal Cinemas, AMC, Disney, Lamar, and Clear Channel use these applications. We recently merged Cinemagic into Handleman Corporation with plans to launch a new family of licensed products geared towards big box retailers.
My first acquisition, at age 22, DuQuet Jewelers, a leading fine jeweler in Michigan, once counted 5 locations and manufacturing and shop facilities for the mall-based chain jewelers. We were also the Midwest’s largest importer of precious stones from world renowned Bernd Munsteiner, creator of the fantasy cut. Having a front row seat to Wayne Huizenga’s industry rollups of Waste Management, Blockbuster Video, and AutoNation, I knew this is what I wanted to do starting with the jewelry industry, and ten years later, home furnishings.
IR – How do you compare the traditionals like LVMH, Kering, and South African Richemont to the brands held by Grand Met?
VL – Our brands have roots and prominence across North America, but Beverly Hills seemed the appropriate place to establish ourselves in the world of luxury. Since then, I have logged over 500 flights nationally and internationally from Moscow to Milan, San Francisco to Frankfurt. Taking a page out of fellow former Michigander and client Tom Gores’ Platinum Equity and the late Kirk Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp, both headquartered in the golden triangle; Grand Met proudly calls Beverly Hills home.
In an era where everyone seemingly wants to occupy the “luxury” space in their industry like electric car maker Tesla and taxi disruptor Uber, we believe that luxury should be more aspirational than attainable. Our legacy brands have collectively sold to and through a robust 5,000 storefronts at one time. While our portfolio has been major retailers and employers in both national and regional positions in the United States, we wish to expand our presence globally. Today, we are emulating the Amazon business model and transitioning our brick & mortar relationship with tens of millions of clients to mobile and digital platforms worldwide and aggressively engaging on social media.
IR – What are the plans for the future?
VL – As we look to the future growth of Grand Met, each division follows its course of action. Our trip to Moscow after G20 on the eve of Russia’s Alrosa Group IPO was Finlay Fine Jewelers’ first step since it retreated from Paris almost two decades ago. Finlay operated France’s largest leased jewelry operations since its 1994 acquisition of Société Nouvelle d’Achat de Bijouterie (Sonab), which included 104 locations in such leading French stores as Galeries Lafayette and Nouvelles Galeries. We are currently exploring Monaco as the future base for Grand Met’s European offices.
IR – Connected to an international circle of art, artists, Oscars, and everybody and anything that represents luxury, what is your passion and achievements?
VL – Our Gallery Rodeo has grown to over 100 pieces of fine art from such named artists as Picasso, Rembrandt, Renoir, Klimt, and Rodin. We added Willem de Kooning in 2015. Working with Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonham’s is a real passion of mine personally. The Beverly Hills Cigar Club is a private group of individuals passionate about wine, spirits, food and cigars. The club hosts charity auctions, celebrity events, and red carpet functions including the Cannes Film Festival, Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, and Independent Spirit Awards. We also participate in hundreds of events globally including the G20 Economic Summit, World Economic Forum at Davos, and Milken Institute Global Conference. Also, Beverly Hills Sports Car hosts and sponsors motoring events with NASCAR, Formula 1, Concours d’ Elegance from Miami to Monaco.
Fortunately, I am surrounded and supported by some of the finest professionals in the world. All 7 of our divisions are gently reaching out for growth across the globe with excellent and respectable partners and vendors. Both Finlay and Heilig-Meyers have developed disruptive industry formulae that will change the way consumers interact with retailers. Our intention is to create a positive impact on our culture, economy, and environment. Grand Met brands have been instrumental influences in their communities employing thousands of people and raising tens of millions of dollars for various charities. We are focusing on expanding internationally including our establishment of a foundation to benefit up to 1 million underprivileged children in 9 countries. n