By and  on April 1, 2009

MILAN — It’s not every day you see a chief executive officer of a $3.2 billion business patiently waiting in line at the canteen of the manufacturing plant he oversees. Nor are the artisans used to being asked for their opinion on the future of the company for which they cut and stitch hides by hand each day.

This, however, is Patrizio di Marco’s modus operandi at Gucci. In his first days at the company, di Marco, who joined the brand as president and ceo on Jan. 1, chose to shake hands with each worker at the Casellina plant in Tuscany and get the answer to a straight question directly from those who craft those famed double-G logoed hobos. “What would you do? This is the most difficult question to answer,” said di Marco at Gucci’s Milan showroom during his first interview since taking the helm. “My priority was to meet the workers, to go and see how things worked and check out the production. People are the miracle [in a business] and nobody is an island. “I hate it when you only talk to those directly reporting to you — you don’t create a team,” said the effusive and personable executive, whose track record includes the turnaround of Bottega Veneta as that firm’s president and ceo. Di Marco replaced Mark Lee at Gucci, and has held executive positions at Louis Vuitton Americas, Celine and Prada. “It’s my karma,” he joked of taking over one of the world’s major luxury brands in the midst of a recession and curbed consumer spending. When di Marco joined Bottega Veneta, the brand had lost direction and he had to face the post-9/11 downturn. While Gucci has grown 46 percent over the past three years, the new ceo does face one of the worst economies in decades. But he has a clear vision for the brand. Peppering his conversation with references to Gucci’s history, the executive is focused on leveraging one of the company’s main assets — its deeply rooted craftsmanship. “Gucci’s competence is absolutely exceptional,” said di Marco, who believes in preserving the brand’s Made in Italy production and shuns outsourcing. “This is not about protectionism, but can you imagine a Ferrari being made outside Modena? I’m not sure luxury is about outsourcing,” he said. Responding to his own question about steps that need to be taken, di Marco is set on emphasizing quality. “Especially now, value and price are increasingly more important and fundamental — as much as the product offer,” he said. “Many companies feel privileged, leveraging on the brand, in the belief that the product will sell anyway. That’s abusive, because the customer is king and as such must be treated that way.” Di Marco recalled his first meeting with creative director Frida Giannini to the date. “It was on Oct. 10, in her office, and we talked six hours straight,” he said. Di Marco said he wanted to understand how big the merchandising aspect was for the designer. “I was under the impression that the collections were excessively large and wide ranging, both in terms of leather goods and fashion,” said the executive. “Frida is extremely cooperative in merchandising and open to offer new trends, but there were too many materials, in too many variations. This creates confusion in the mind of the customer, and has less shelf life — it’s more similar to fast fashion.”

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