By  on November 16, 2005

When Robert Polet became president and chief executive officer of the $3.4 billion Gucci Group in July 2004, he was charged with guiding several of the world's most prominent luxury brands through a period of wrenching transition.

He didn't exactly ease himself into the job.

Within months, Polet announced he planned to double the size of the Gucci brand in seven years, and he is on track to do just that.

In his keynote address, Polet described his first year on the job and the important steps he took to become acquainted with Gucci Group's people, brands and culture. Tying in with the conference's theme "The challenge of change," Polet said, "We've had our share of change."

Since Polet came aboard from food giant Unilever, Gucci got a new owner; 38 of its senior management left within eight months; 12 people were hired and 21 people were promoted from within. Six of the nine ceo's in charge of the individual brands are new.

"We completely changed our organizational structure. We went from a leadership of two to a leadership of 20," said Polet, who added that, in January, François-Henri Pinault replaced Serge Weinberg as ceo of Gucci parent PPR.

Soon after taking the reins, Polet decided to take a seven-week trip around the world and visited 168 of the company's directly operated stores. He met and spoke with 2,500 Gucci Group employees, visited distribution centers and made speeches.

"It provided me with good insight into competitors," said Polet, noting he visited their stores, too. "It gave me needed insight to the rules of the game of the luxury industry." He was also able to soak in the culture of the group. "I loved the culture of the Gucci Group exactly as it was, as it still is."

If you come in as a leader of an organization and you don't like the culture, he said, "It's a phenomenal challenge to try and change it."

People always ask him about the similarities and differences between his previous job as president of Unilever's $7.8 billion ice cream and frozen foods division and what he does at Gucci.

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