Coach CEO to hand over reins in 2014, promises "seamless" change

Coach Inc on Thursday said longtime Chief Executive Lew Frankfort will step down in January 2014 and be replaced by the executive who oversaw the upscale leather-goods maker's successful expansion in Asia.

Frankfort, who joined the company in 1979 as vice-president of new business development and built it into one of the biggest names in high-end handbags and accessories, will stay on with the company as executive chairman, continuing to work closely with his successor Victor Luis after he takes the reins next year.

Luis, 46, was named chief commercial officer until then and will head all business units, merchandising, licensing and strategy, in part to deepen his understanding of Coach's business in its top market in North America, where sales have cooled.

Coach said the appointment was the result of a multi-year succession plan.

"This is going to be a seamless transition. We are aligned on business direction and strategy," Frankfort, 66, told Reuters.

Frankfort, known for his Bronx accent, is credited with transforming Coach from a tiny niche player into a major leather accessories brand. Wall Street analysts expect the 72-year-old company to have sales of $5.1 billion for the fiscal year ending in June. In 1979, sales were $6 million.

Luis joined Coach in 2006 to head up its Japan unit, its second biggest, and two years later took on the company's China expansion, which has so far been successful. Last quarter, sales there rose 40 percent.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)