Magazine article The Spectator

Monaco's Man with a Plan Takes His Place Centre Stage

Magazine article The Spectator

Monaco's Man with a Plan Takes His Place Centre Stage

Article excerpt

Last week Prince Albert II, ruler of the tiny Mediterranean state of Monaco since his father's death in 2005, came to London to unveil his vision for the principality. The playboy of the gossip columns was nowhere to be seen: on display at a press conference at the Ritz hotel was a softly spoken, Amherst-educated, 49-year-old man with a plan. Using words such as 'turnover' rather than 'GDP', the Prince made it quite clear that the oldest luxury brand in Europe is under new ownership, and that its new CEO plans to develop it with all the skill and science of the private equity generation.

'Monaco, ' he says, 'is open for business.' Prince Albert's plan can be seen as a model five-point case study of a post-buyout company relaunch. Step one is perhaps best described as 'decontaminating the brand'. Acutely aware that Somerset Maugham's description of Monaco as 'a sunny place for shady people' has not been forgotten, the Prince is setting about transforming the principality's image. 'We've improved on a lot of aspects of financial regulation, ' he says. 'We are not a place that tolerates illegal financial activities or money-laundering in any form. Actually we never have been, but some of these aspects just need to be profiled in a different way.' The power of the Monaco brand is its glamour, and last week's press conference was perfectly executed to reinforce this core value. The Marie Antoinette suite at the Ritz was bedecked with 200 white and red roses (the colours of the Monaco flag), and the morning air was filled with hushed French voices and air-kisses, coiffed hairstyles and curly moustaches, expensive perfumes and the sound of flowing champagne. I almost genuflected at the supremely elegant consulgeneral, Evelyn Genta, and as even the press instinctively stood for the Prince's arrival, one girl from a major tabloid whispered that she felt strangely nervous. 'Give me a police press conference about a brutal murder, and I know what to do, ' she murmured.

With the seductiveness of the brand thus gloriously restored, the second part of Prince Albert's plan appears to be to maximise Monaco's existing offering or, in the language of the business school, to 'go deeper in its existing verticals'. The combination of no income tax and Mediterranean sunshine has long inspired the rich to set up shop in Monaco, but Prince Albert sees new opportunities. With an average age of 45, Monaco's population is among the oldest in the world -- young millionaires are wanted.

With its proximity to London, Prince Albert is making a play to attract more 'young affluent British families' to live and work in Monaco. With prime London property prices now more expensive than Monte Carlo, even without a UK crackdown on 'non-doms', this microstate is poised to accommodate quite a few more millionaires.

And so we get to step three in our case study -- and the heart and soul of every modern business plan -- expansion. Unless he were to ask his gendarmes to annex the city of Nice, Prince Albert might appear to be stuck with his single square mile of territory. But Monaco has territorial waters, see? The enterprising Prince has put out to competitive tender the construction of an island just outside the Fontvieille harbour, which will include new hotels, a university and a museum.

And that is just locally. …

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