At top schools in Europe and the US, ambitious innovators are taking luxury-orientated master’s and MBA programs, determined to pick up the skills necessary to break into a notoriously tough market.
Launched more than 20 years ago, ESSEC Business School’s sector-specific MBA program was the first of its kind.
“If you want to break into the luxury industry, you have to bring something unique to the market,” says Simon Nyeck, the MBA’s director. “If you have an original idea, ESSEC can help develop it, build a story and create the brand,” he says.
With its start-up incubator, the school provides a rent-free space and organizes meetings with investors, allowing entrepreneurs to rapidly develop their ideas without administrative hassle.
Yet even with b-school backing, launching your own luxury business venture is not easy.
“Although we’ve had some successful entrepreneurs, we don’t see that many,” says Simon. “Luxury is the only sector in the world where old means good,” he continues. “If you’re not part of LVMH or Richemont, you don’t have much leverage.”
Although difficult, Simon insists that starting up your own luxury enterprise is “not impossible”.
As the industry enters the digital era, it is on the internet where Simon sees space for emerging luxury brands. “On the internet it’s about being quick, smart and lean.”
While he accepts that utilizing new digital platforms is important, on one point he is unequivocal: “If you want to be successful today in the luxury business, you have to sell to the Chinese.”
Despite the recent economic downturn, Chinese consumers still account for 31% of all global luxury sales, according Bain & Company.
With this in mind, SKEMA Business School’s master’s in luxury and fashion management is taught both in France and on the school’s Suzhou campus in China.
Around 10% of its alumni go on to start businesses in the luxury sector —something the program’s director, Ivan Coste-Manière, attributes firmly to the school’s “multi-campus driven strategy”.
Despite SKEMA’s global approach, Ivan sees a returning emphasis on local craftsmanship as a huge opportunity for aspiring luxury entrepreneurs.
“From global, we are now going in reverse,” he says. “Bespoke, niche, innovation-driven luxury is booming, driving a tremendous potential for ‘local jewels’; ethnic brands which offer very exclusive products and services.”
In the US, NYU Stern’s MBA program is looking to harness this trend.
“I take students on visits to places ‘off the beaten path’ to help them gain an appreciation of hand-made luxury goods,” says Thomaï Serdari, director of the program’s luxury marketing specialization.
For Thomaï, NYU Stern is “the place to be for aspiring luxury entrepreneurs”.
“Last year, we introduced the ‘Luxury Launch’ course to cover various aspects of launching a business and specifically the building blocks of a business model tailored to the luxury space,” she says.
Although the course is not on offer this year, it is likely to return based on student demand, as ambitious entrepreneurs flock to New York City.
“NYU Stern gives [students] access to the strongest luxury retail market in the US,” says Thomaï. “Our network of graduates is global, strong, and renowned for its effectiveness.”
The UK capital is another ideal location for luxury entrepreneurs.
London Business School (LBS) boasts a powerful network of more than 40,000 alumni. “Students and graduates are able to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience whenever, wherever,” says retail and luxury careers center manager Fiona Stubb.
LBS offers a program in luxury management for MBAs with Walpole, an organization comprising 170 British luxury brands, as well as a Deloitte-sponsored start-up incubator to help develop early-stage business ventures.
In partnership with the British Fashion Council, MBA students are also given the chance to pitch their ideas to real businesses.
While the percentage of LBS MBA graduates who go on to launch their own luxury ventures is small, Fiona has noted a growing interest in the sector as a whole.
“There have even been cases where current students and alumni have provided funding for start-ups coming out of LBS,” she says.