Mark Lee may speak in softer tones and more genteel phrases than Domenico De Sole, who was renowned for his tenacious, tough-talking approach, but make no mistake — Lee is just as ambitious a businessman as his former boss.
The 43-year-old president and chief executive of the Gucci brand laughs when recalling the intense scrutiny that took place at a recent meeting of managers in Scandicci, just outside Florence.
“You’d think that we were on the verge of bankruptcy,” he said. “We kind of dismiss all the things we are doing right and we focus more on the things we can do better…I would say that kind of constant internal criticism for the sake of pushing forward is a constant. [It’s] something I always shared with Domenico.”
Also like De Sole, Lee is a survivor. He joined Gucci in 1996 as worldwide director of ready-to-wear sales and celebrates his 10th year at the company this year. Widely respected as a manager, Lee was the most high-profile fashion executive to stay on at Gucci Group in the wake of the departures of De Sole and Tom Ford in 2004, albeit in a different role. Gucci Group president and ceo Robert Polet plucked Lee from the helm of Yves Saint Laurent in October 2004 to head the Gucci division and replace an outgoing Giacomo Santucci.
“Of all of my colleagues from that time period, he was the most determined and the most reserved,” recalls Gianfranco Ferré ceo Massimo Macchi, who headed Gucci’s watch and jewelry division from 2001 to 2003 and worked with Lee on YSL timepieces.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the French owner picked him for such an important role,” said Macchi, who remembers how Lee’s precise planning style contrasted with that of some of the more informal and easygoing Italian managers at Gucci Group, like Santucci and Bottega Veneta ceo Patrizio Di Marco.
“Mark is the right person in the right place at the right time, and my conviction is fully supported by results,” Polet said.
Not surprising, the man who hired Lee at Gucci takes a similar view.
“I think Mark is excellent. It’s as simple as that,” De Sole said, describing Lee as a rational, factual and very analytical manager. “He has a sense of urgency and gets things done.”
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"