MILAN — “I have always believed that in life it is not so important what happens to us, but how we deal with it.…The most difficult moments define the character and the identity of a person and of a company. And it is precisely in these tough times that we show ourselves for who we are.”
Italy has been in lockdown since March 9 and Ruffini has dedicated time and thought to strengthening the connection with his team during this period of self-isolation. “Companies are not made by offices and stores, sewing machines and computers. They are made by people,” he said. And to avoid losing touch with his employees, he launched a program called “Energy Plan,” which would help the team share at least one moment during each day. “Energy Plan” has been engaging 700 people who work at Moncler’s headquarters, but starting in May, it will reach all of the brand’s employees worldwide.
The company has also created a private Instagram account dedicated to its employees called @Monclertogether through which every day it organizes different activities. Some of the courses are organized by employees, others by outside guests.
The week is divided into formats, starting with Monday and the “Best Moment in Moncler,” as people share their favorite memories; the next day there are training courses under the “At School” moniker and “Mind Your Mind” offering meditation courses and advice by mental health coaches and psychologists. On Wednesday, it’s time for yoga and pilates courses, “At the Gym,” followed on Thursday by “A Talk With” Ruffini and guests. “Health Day” on Friday sets up meetings with nutritionists and doctors. “Cultural Day” on Saturday is dedicated to movies, books and art works, and on Sunday, “Fun Day” is livened up by a DJ set and a dance school.
Last week, commenting on the 18 percent decrease in sales in the first quarter, impacted by the pandemic, Ruffini expressed confidence in the future of the brand, “stronger than before,” touting a long-term strategy, the company’s “skills, talents and financial strength,” and leveraging his own and his team’s energy.
Here, the executive talks about a possible post-COVID-19 scenario, but he also shares with WWD how he recharges, his own best memory, his favorite songs and how important it is to be connected with his team.
WWD: How did you come up with the idea to start an Instagram account open only to Moncler employees?
Remo Ruffini: Ever since Day One, when we realized we were to stay home, I thought it was important to not only communicate with customers but also within the company as we reorganized it during the lockdown. It was inevitable to protect the supply chain, the logistics, surely the collections, but the first thing was to maintain the energy of our people, the energy we’ve always had at Moncler, and to maintain the connection despite the physical distance. Engaging our people was one of our fundamental values. There’s a lot of talk about reopening, but it’s not about opening the doors, it’s about having a motivated team, so that they feel part of the family. It’s fundamental at this point.
WWD: There are reports of so many companies furloughing employees, millions of people losing jobs around the world, this attention to people is at the other end of the spectrum. At the beginning of the lockdown were you concerned that your employees would feel isolated and maybe lose the connection with the brand you often speak of?
R.R.: Surely it would be a great loss to lose the values of our community. My first thought was immediately to protect the health and the salaries of the employees, but, that said, the energy that has always been the key word at Moncler was surely the third issue at stake. Without energy, you can’t go too far. The past month and a half was not easy, but I believe the difficulties will start from May 4 [when the lockdown will begin to be lifted in Italy], when we’ll see the damages made on the market. Let’s see how the governments really behave, let’s see what happens on the markets. Our duty is to have a company ready to restart, to deliver our collections, but we don’t know what the consumers’ mind-set will be like. We can do our part, but a lot needs to be done by the governments, how they support citizens, how they will help us out, although I see all governments are moving well, in the U.S., in China surely. Consumer sentiment will depend on how the governments will take action. This crisis also offers opportunities to shape a company that is more in line with the current moment, prioritizing and correcting mistakes. I believe in trying to avoid feeling sorry for ourselves and react, tackle the market with flexibility, which is one of the biggest assets, and set a new strategy that surely cannot be the same as before. We can’t just run ahead, we need to look at the values of the company, look at the past to build a new future.
WWD: Yesterday evening [April 26], prime minister Giuseppe Conte spoke of very gradually lifting the lockdown in phases, the first starting on May 4, followed by another on May 18 and then June 1. How do you feel about this?
R.R.: The health crisis is no less than the economic one and there is a strong risk of a social one. I think that if you have faith in the Italians, we can restart even earlier. We can do well, we can respect the health rules, and return to work with all the necessary attention. Yes, we are used to being closed in the month of August, but to be closed for 40 days at this moment, before our collections are out in June, carries a lot of weight. We put our chain at risk. Granted, smart-working was quite easy to implement, but in our sector, there are jobs that are inevitably physical ones, touching the fabrics, creating and improving the prototypes — the industrial part has to be done at the company.
WWD: Are you allowed to open the manufacturing plants ahead of the end of the lockdown?
R.R.: Yes, we can open from today [April 27] because we export and we already opened in [Trebaseleghe] in the Veneto [region] last week with a limited number of people for research, design and development of prototypes. That was the priority and the return must be very, very gradual. I don’t think everyone will be back in the company at the same time. We [entrepreneurs and managers] are mature and conscious of the priorities and the caution that is needed. We cannot afford a resurgence of the virus. Caution is the absolute priority as is compliance with the regulations. We need to protect the industry, the people as well as the company, otherwise it would be bad for us and for Italy.
WWD: Have you opened stores in certain markets?
R.R.: Yes, we reopened in China, and in some European markets, such as Germany and Norway. In Italy we will reopen starting on the 18th [as per the government’s regulation]. It was most important to reopen our production, then the stores, but when it’s safe. It will be difficult to be as rigorous as China and South Korea in Europe. In China we’ve seen a performance similar to last year’s, depending on the days, but it won’t be the same in Europe or Italy. China has a lot of local business, in Europe 40 percent of customers are visitors. I imagine the U.S. will be the last to reopen, even though I see they are doing as much as possible to solve the problems.
WWD: How do you personally recharge?
R.R.: I have the energy, I try to find it in myself and I am quite convinced I have enough to return to the company. I am pleased with what’s happened in the past month and a half, seeing the team learn to do smart-working in one weekend, and this has given me energy. The connection with the company has given me a lot of energy, and the feeling of being a large family. I am ready for the restart and the team is ready, too. How and when does not depend only from us, but we are determined and want to restart as early as possible.
WWD: Did you discover anything new about yourself during the lockdown? Did you listen to yourself more? Did anything surprise you during this period of self-isolation?
R.R.: I rediscovered technology, surely. I was always passionate about it, but I did not think it would allow us to have these kind of results, and that we could be so close to each other, working as if we were in the office. “Energy Plan” is an example of how technology can help us to be close. Technology created energy. Also, I discovered that, while I was trying to protect the health and salaries of my people, it is they who have made me feel protected and safe. Their reaction was so strong that it helped me. This is something else I found out. When you try to give, it is all returned back to you. This is also fundamental in this moment.
WWD: Are you evaluating smart-working as something that can be done long-term?
R.R.: I never saw smart-working in a negative way in the past, but there was never the opportunity to fully enforce it and now I’ve realized it’s a great working tool. We will continue this way in the next months because I don’t think we can all return at the same time, with desks close to each other, and it will help people in our team that have children at home or have to take care of elderly relatives.
WWD: Will you share your own “Best Moment”?
R.R.: I really like this project because it brought back so many memories. People have spoken of the first day at the Bourse, which was very important for me, too; of last year’s first hackathon, and the launch of Genius. It has given a lot of energy to everyone, it’s a great way to be close and it can become an album of memories.
I was the first to talk about my best moment and it was when a few months ago, I was just back from receiving the British Fashion Award [Business Leader Award in December 2019] and my team was waiting for me at our cafeteria. It was unexpected, a big surprise, and such a strong, moving moment, beautiful, even more than the prize the evening before.
WWD: What kind of guest and personality do you invite to talk with you on Instagram?
R.R.: We have five fundamental Moncler values and each week we have a guest talking about a value, with 100 to 200 people connected. The first guest was Etienne Rousso [founder of Villa Eugénie special events company], he creates all our events. He was the first because he is a little crazy [laughing]. He has given us a lot of emotions, with the Grenoble and Genius shows. Then we invited journalist Nicola Porro, followed by Luca De Meo [president and ceo of Renault]. I think he is one of the greatest managers, he’s worked all around the world in the automotive world, from Toyota to Fiat and now he’s restructuring Renault after the scandals in Japan. These talks are meant to be engaging, to go deep and discover people and values for the future.
WWD: Would you consider opening up and divulging the content of the talks or the employees’ Instagram account to the world outside Moncler?
R.R.: This is a very personal project for us, I don’t think I would want to open it up but, that said, we could continue in the future and it could also become part of our communication. I don’t want to rule anything out, but for the time being, it is very much ours alone and I don’t think it would be right to share it. But let’s see if there is an evolution.
WWD: You have also changed your communication, posting on social media images of past ad campaigns. Do you think this is reassuring today as the world faces so many uncertainties?
R.R.: The same reasons that apply for our communication within the company apply for the outside. We realized the pandemic made everything old and almost inopportune, that having many pretty girls with pretty jackets was not fit for this moment. The tone of voice that worked in the past had to be changed because it was inadequate, out-of-context as the values had changed. I thought consumers expected something different, emotions, a dream, and now more than ever they needed to find this dimension. We could not overturn our campaign because production was halted, and I thought we had older campaigns that had great value, such as those by Annie Leibovitz and Bruce Weber. They are still current and talk about a connection and staying together. They are perfect for and reflect this moment. The past is our future. Surely we have to rethink our communication, how to speak to our consumers, the messages must be tied to the context, strong but totally different in sync with the values of today, not yesterday’s. We can come out of this even stronger, we must not be disheartened, although we know the path will be uphill and difficult, as it’s been before.
WWD: During the call with analysts commenting on the first-quarter results, you admitted that you could also be rethinking the Genius project, if need be, with an evolution. But in any case you underscored the need to have a long-term vision for the company. Could you elaborate?
R.R.: It is fundamental to recover lost ground but we must not lose sight of the long-term strategy. There are ways to improve 2020 figures, but we must think long-term and not destroy the brand. I have a clear vision in my head, it can evolve but not change. That would hurt the brand. We must look ahead, think of what Moncler could be in 2021 or 2022 and not be conditioned by quarters into mistakes that could be harmful to the brand.
WWD: And, on a lighter note, you have created a playlist for Monclertogether. What is your relationship with music?
R.R.: Music is very important. As soon as I get home I switch it on, it has great power. I like songs from the past. With their memories, they give me strong emotions. Two of my favorites are in my playlist. One is [Michael Nyman’s] “Time Lapse,” which was the soundtrack to the public listing, and is always played at events with investors. It reminds me of very strong moments of our recent history. The other is Umberto Tozzi’s “Ti Amo,” it’s a bit dated [laughing] — although it was played in the last series of “Money Heist” and it reminds me of the Grenoble show in New York we held on Feb. 14 . With Etienne just before Christmas we didn’t know what the concept could be, then we realized the show was going to be held on Feb. 14 and we said why don’t we do a great party for St. Valentine’s [when all models kissed]? That song always gets under my skin.