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Fashion-Tech Groups Are Buying MBA Hires, As Digital Era Dawns For Luxury

MBA students will steer industry's digital transformation

Once fearful of technology’s impact, the luxury industry is thrusting itself into the digital era. And its tech pioneers are looking to MBAs to steer their digital transformations.  

A deal struck this week between Italy’s luxury specialist Bologna Business School and Yoox Net-A-Porter, the world’s leading online luxury fashion retailer, is the latest example of this trend.

The pair have just launched the Center for Digital Business Education, set to train managers with the necessary skills for roles in marketing, big data, and e-commerce management.

Luxury brands have identified technology as an area where there’s a dearth of talent, according to Boston Consulting Group; 33% of respondents said the role of e-commerce manager was difficult or impossible fill. And demand for tech-savvy luxury professionals is increasing.

“There is a digital gap or, better, a generational gap,” Massimo Bergami, dean of Bologna Business School, told Luxury Daily.

“This human capital ‘gap’ is one that companies….Are struggling with — how to merge their managerial skills and professional resources into the digital world,” he said.

Maria Eugenia, executive director for IE Business School’s Premium and Prestige Business Observatory, said: “Without [a] doubt, more opportunities exist for career development at established luxury groups and companies thanks to the internet.”

The shift to e-commerce has given rise to a host of new luxury ventures uploading their exclusive, up-market products into the online realm.

Gachoucha Kretz, former LVMH executive and now professor of marketing at HEC Paris, said: “Chances are the breaking new business models like that of Yoox or Moda Operandi will flourish and, of course, drive new career and business opportunities.”

Erica Corbellini, director of the Master in Fashion, Experience and Design Management at SDA Bocconi School of Management, said luxury brands are desperate for talent to combine tech expertise with business smarts.

“There are now several luxury brands that have developed a successful digital strategy,” she said.

This is despite a historic conflict between creative visionaries and business minds in the industry. Opinion is still divided over how to adapt to a mercurial consumer environment.

Ivan Coste-Manière, professor of marketing at SKEMA Business School, said: “Some brands are still reluctant to fully adopt the web, while some others, and especially the newest and youngest ones, have been using the web with tremendous success.”

The slow adoption of the internet has cost brands in terms of talent, suggested Simon Nyeck, academic director of the MBA in International Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC Business School.

“Because luxury brands are laggards in this domain, Nike, Uniqlo and others are already recruiting more people,” he said.

Budding luxury managers will need to develop multi-pronged strategies. One of the great difficulties is balancing a strong bricks-and-mortar presence with a slick online operation.

“Luxury brands face a different challenge — how to optimize their omni-channel strategies,” said professor Thomaï Serdari, strategist in luxury marketing and branding at NYU Stern.

Yoox Net-A-Porter’s deal with Bologna highlights the many brands looking to business schools leading in luxury management education to help satisfy demand for talent.

London Business School recently developed a program in luxury management with Walpole, which comprises 170 British luxury brands. LVMH works with HEC Paris, ESSEC, Bocconi, Central Saint Martins and Parsons schools.

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