Since starting out his career on front-line sales at Zara, the world’s biggest clothing chain, and then in marketing at Italian menswear label Canali in New York, the Puerto Rico born fashionista has worked his way up in the fashion industry.
After moving on from a corporate-type stock specialist role at Italian clothing manufacturing company Zanella, the San Juan stylist moved to his father’s hometown, Bologna, for his MBA.
The experience invigorated Mario’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and he moved back home to help set up an educational services company, as well as an online business selling pickled food products.
Currently, all other projects have been put on hold as the high-flying fashion aficionado focuses all his efforts on the big launch of his new store — La Tigre Uomo — in February next year.
What plans do you have for your new business?
La Tigre is the name of my favorite osteria [a bar/restaurant] in Bologna and it sums up the things I love most in life.
I want my store to grow and multiply, but keep the feel and look of a place where you can have memorable experiences with wine, music and great company, all in a retail context.
What challenges do you face in setting up it up?
La Tigre is coming into the market during a tumultuous economic period in Puerto Rico. Offering a truly differentiated experience to turn customers into repeat purchasers will be key.
But we are also looking south and trying to develop a brand that really speaks to Hispanic men in booming economies.
Can your store compete with the growing online fashion market?
When I was in college all they talked about in retail management was the end of bricks-and-mortar businesses and the need to shift to online. But I never believed retail was dead, only that it needed to be cleaned up.
For every special occasion you need to be well-dressed, you need to talk about it, and you need to feel at ease with your purchase decisions. Try getting that from your tablet!
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?
The risk factor is very big and sometimes exhausting, but nothing ever compares to the satisfaction of accomplishing your goals.
Whatever your business is invested in should be something that you feel passionate about. The difference between a product or service that is mediocre, and one that is truly beautiful, has a lot to do with the love that goes into producing it.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I’d dreamt of opening my own menswear store since I was 15. It drew me to business school as an undergraduate and to BBS as an MBA.
Before my MBA, starting a corporate-type career at [luxury menswear brand] Zanella right when the recession hit in 2008 was tough. I considered myself lucky to even have a job and I didn’t feel like there was much room in which to grow my experience and knowledge.
On a flight to Puerto Rico, I came across an article about the BBS MBA program in a business magazine. Up until that point it had not even crossed my mind to do an MBA, but for some reason it felt like the right thing to do. It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made!
Why did you choose to study at BBS in particular?
It was always [a] dream of mine to someday live in Bologna, where half my family is from.
The curriculum at BBS seemed very interesting and not a lot of schools were offering a fashion and luxury goods specialization at the time.
Bologna is a very special place for students. It has the perfect mix of social life, history and culture. It’s not too noisy and not too calm.