Kellogg, the prestigious school of management at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago, has announced plans for a business course on fashion -- or at least, how fashion can play a role in industries as varied as fast-moving consumer goods to consumer electronics and home computers. ESSEC, the French business school, has an entire MBA program dedicated to a Luxury. And, fashion and luxury clubs are popping up at business schools around the world, from Harvard to Columbia to London Business School.
These are the latest signs that professional general managers are playing a more prominent role in the fashion and luxury industry. Before the emergence of major luxury groups, first LVMH, and then Gucci Group and Richemont, many fashion and luxury businesses were a family affair -- and this is still the case for many brands, most notably in Italy. But, with more and more luxury IPOs and the shift towards managing luxury brands within a portfolio, has also come the need for CEOs who are well versed in brand management, investor relations and supply chain optimisation.
Enter the likes of Robert Polet, chief executive of the Gucci Group, whose background as a senior marketer in Unilever's ice cream division raised many an eyebrow when he joined the company in 2004. Since then, he has gone on create clear definition for Gucci's brand portfolio and achieved his objective of doubling Gucci Group's revenues and increasing profitability through a combination of operational improvements, brand building and retail expansion.
However, professional managers in fashion do need to be cut from a different cloth -- so to speak. They also need to be respectful of the creative process and understand the unique motivations of the creative talent which underpins the success of any fashion business. For example, Mr Polet seems to have understood that if you suppress that creativity, you are left with very little. A great supply chain, magnificent investor relations and a beautiful brand are not of much use in fashion if you don't have an equally compelling product.
Perhaps Permira, the embattled private equity owner of Valentino Fashion Group and its brother company Hugo Boss, which lost another senior manager this month, could take a few lessons themselves from the Kellogg course.