MBA Careers: High-Profile Luxury Hires Highlight Need For Digital Managers

Opportunities emerge for ambitious executives to lead luxury brands into digital era

The stream of high-profile hires from Silicon Valley by luxury brands this month has highlighted the need for talent to manage the industry’s digital pivot.

The poaching of Apple executive Ian Rogers by LVHM, owner of the Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior brands, is the latest evidence that luxury is getting serious about the advent of digital.

The €224 billion-a-year industry has been slow to warm to technology for fear of undermining its exclusivity and up-market values. But as luxury leaders begin to embrace change, opportunities are emerging for ambitious managers to lead brands into the digital era.

Professor Thomaï Serdari, strategist in luxury marketing and branding at NYU Stern School of Business, said that there will be both new career and business opportunities as a result of luxury’s digital drive.

“We are experiencing a shift,” she said.

LVHM’s coup follows similar recent luxury-tech tie-ups. At Apple’s San Francisco product launch event, French fashion house Hermès was revealed as the company’s design partner for the Apple Watch.

“There are now several luxury brands that have developed a successful digital strategy,” said Erica Corbellini, director of the Master in Fashion, Experience and Design Management at SDA Bocconi School of Management.

Luxury brands are desperate for talent to combine technological expertise with business knowledge — and an eye for visual detail, she said.

LVMH is not alone in seeing the potential in digital. Hermés recently launched Le MANifeste d’Hermès, a new website devoted to men’s products. Kering, owner of brands including Gucci and Balenciaga, said this year that digital is “a priority”. And Kering set up an e-business platform to provide its brands with the tools to develop online business strategies.

Ivan Coste-Manière, professor of marketing at SKEMA Business School, highlights digital adopters such as Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Richard Mille which are all capitalizing on their investments in technology.

As a result, “digital marketers, digital branders, CRM specialists and community managers are becoming a must for these companies”, he said.

Chris Higgins, assistant director for the Career Development Centre at the business school INSEAD, said luxury companies are “definitely taking notice” of MBA students and “we’re starting to see more sophistication with technology in terms of linking the store experience” online.

Exane BNP Paribas, the French bank, forecasts that by 2020 online luxury sales could be triple current levels of about 6%.

This is despite historic resistance on the part of the luxury sector to embrace technology.

“Luxury designers and brands tell clients what to wear, carry, what to like and what to wish,” said Maria Eugenia Giron, executive director for IE Business School’s Premium and Prestige Business Observatory. But “the internet represented a shift of power that luxury brands did not know how to handle”.

Professor Simon Nyeck, academic director of the MBA in International Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC Business School, said that luxury sector businesses have been losing talent to retail brands such as Nike and Uniqlo, the Japanese casualwear designer.

But as the industry reverses a flow of talent out of luxury, openings will appear.

“There will be job opportunities in terms of e-commerce, e-services, and logistics and the supply chain,” he said.

Outside of the large luxury leaders, there may be career opportunity at start-ups, which are successfully mixing a passion for luxury with digital tech to sell brands online.

Examples include Vente Privée, the Paris based online sales group, which has reportedly been valued at $3 billion, and London’s Farfetch, which raised $86 million based on a valuation of £1 billion.

Gachoucha Kretz, professor of marketing at HEC Paris and former executive at LVMH, said: “Start-ups in fashion and luxury are just at their infancy and will drive lots of positive outcomes — like creating very exciting jobs.”

Angelo Manaresi, director of the MBA in Design, Fashion and Luxury Goods at Bologna Business School, said that international experience and bilingual qualities are sought by luxury groups.

He added: “A good balance between technical competence in marketing and finance, and a passion for the industry, is another strong asset.”

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