Two events on opposite sides of the Atlantic on spring afternoons this year confirmed the growing appetite for luxury markets at top business schools.
At the Silicon Valley headquarters of Airbnb, the disruptive, $13 billion flat sharing site, alumni of INSEAD gathered to discuss the creative economy; at London Business School, the Retail & Luxury Goods Club convened executives to debate the latest trends and challenges facing the luxury industry.
Martijn Bertisen, Google UK’s retail sales director who spoke at LBS, said that disruptive innovation is creating opportunities for traditional luxury brands to connect with consumers.
Such innovation is increasing needed for business schools to stay relevant. In the proceeding weeks top schools, which are pushing further into sectors like fashion, have reported swelling numbers of applications to their luxury programs.
The two events illustrate the growing need for creative outfits to combine with business managers. Some of the luxury sector’s biggest players are teaming up with business schools to educate the next generation – among them Gucci, Bulgari and LVMH.
Mark Henderson, chairman of Gieves & Hawkes, the tailors, says: “It is not just the highly-skilled craftsmen and women of this country that we need to support, but it is the business leaders of tomorrow who will be responsible for expanding this industry on an international scale.”
Degrees in luxury goods, and MBA tracks and executive courses, have long been established in Europe at French business schools such as ESSEC and HEC Paris, and SDA Bocconi in Italy. But new offerings are feeding the luxury sector frenzy, with the fashion industry alone supporting around 800,000 jobs in the UK, according to the British Fashion Council.
LBS, which has worked with the Council to commercialize fashion, will launch its second program in luxury management with Walpole, an organization comprising more than 170 British luxury brands.
The course will feature lectures from top luxury market executives – including chiefs at Diageo, the world's biggest distiller which produces Smirnoff vodka, fashion house Alexander McQueen, and Maybourne Hotel Group, which owns Claridge’s.
Michelle Emmerson, Walpole chief executive, says the course will facilitate the exchange of new ideas and help to nurture the next generation of leaders in the luxury sector.
Fiona Stubbs, from career services at LBS, says the school is looking for more established and up-and-coming designers to partner with.
“Increasingly, students are interested in retail and luxury,” she says. LBS is seeing a marriage between students with a real appetite for luxury careers and designers who need business strategy to expand. “I’ve noticed a big difference in interest and take-up in our luxury management options,” she adds.
Luana Carcano, director of the luxury business management MBA track at SDA Bocconi, says luxury is a growing area for the Italian business school.
Its Milan location has helped to spur applicant demand. “Many top managers of luxury and premium companies are Italian, or they have received an education in Italy,” says Luana.
Professor Angelo Manaresi, director of the MBA in design, fashion and luxury goods at Bologna Business School, says that the business model of a luxury company can be understood only by those with relevant skills in areas of business administration.
Bologna, also based in Italy, is seeing the strongest growth in applications to its luxury programs from product managers and retail marketers, says Angelo.
Growth in luxury management careers is also driving up applications, with MBA jobs in areas including marketing and retail management particularly strong, say careers managers. “Fast-changing markets require younger people with fresh ideas,” adds Angelo.
Emerging markets have been the nosiest recruiters. “We’re receiving more growth in areas like greater China and in the BRIC countries,” says Chris Higgins, assistant director at INSEAD’s Career Development Centre.
Ivan Coste-Manière, professor of marketing at SKEMA Business School, is like many of his counterparts quick to talk up luxury growth in developing economies. “Anywhere – from Argentina to Mexico – you can find luxury brands,” he says. He adds that luxury trade is blooming across Africa and in Columbia, too.
For INSEAD, a focus on the creative economy has yielded results. Its 10-year partnership with the Art Center College of Design, in which INSEAD MBAs spend a week at the College in California, has seen students immersed at Google, and IDEO and fuseproject – both leading global design groups.
“Successful companies are built by risk takers [who are] able to tap... Talented innovators who share an appreciation for the powerful intersection of design and business,” says Karen Hofmann, the College’s product design chair. Business schools will hope the trend doesn’t go out of fashion.