PARIS — In luxury’s rapidly changing landscape, recruiting the right talents to lead a brand’s digital strategy is key.
The battle to snag the brightest candidates is intensifying as more companies become savvy to the need to enhance their e-commerce sites, make better use of big data and develop a communications strategy that speaks to digitally native Millennials and Generation Z.
Leading players are taking a multipronged approach to the issue, which can be summed up in three tenets: Recruit best-in-class talents; nurture in-house potential, and train the employees of the future.
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, for instance, poached its chief digital officer Ian Rogers from Apple, where he was senior director of Apple Music.
Kering, meanwhile, is rearing existing teams to lead the digital communications charge for subsidiaries like Gucci, which was named the number-one brand in the annual Digital IQ Index: Fashion produced by digital benchmarking firm L2.
And Yoox Net-a-porter is investing in educational initiatives ranging from coding sessions for youngsters to a new master’s degree course at SDA Bocconi University, chief executive officer Federico Marchetti’s alma mater.
“There’s a shortage of digital talent, period, across all industries. Even when I was in California, hiring is incredibly difficult at this point,” said Rogers. “I’m surprised to find that here in Paris, hiring has been, I wouldn’t say easy, but certainly possible.”
He recruited one person on his team from Burberry in Hong Kong. Another joined from Google, but had prior experience in perfumes and cosmetics. “These are all really what I would consider snowflakes — each one of them is so different and interesting,” he said.
A start-up expert and former ceo of Beats Music, Rogers said this cherry-picking approach was increasingly relevant as industry players progress from a pure digital approach to an applied digital outlook, where the key is how to apply new technologies to specific sectors.
“There’s subtleties in fashion, subtleties in perfumes and cosmetics, subtleties in watches and jewelry. What we did at Beats or what someone did at Nike, we can’t just apply to Hublot. It doesn’t make sense. So you want to take a little bit of what you’ve learned there, and then a little bit of what’s particular to the vertical, and come up with the future strategy,” he said.
“I’ve actually found that people really love the idea of applying what they’ve learned in some digital space to luxury. That’s a really attractive thing for a potential candidate,” Rogers remarked.
Floriane de Saint-Pierre, who runs a Paris-based executive search and consulting firm, also recommends casting a wide net. “Digital talent comes from outside the luxury sector,” she said.
She pointed to U.S. tech giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon or Microsoft); Chinese web players (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent or Xiaomi); innovative brands such as Nike; pure players or early players such as Warby Parker, Mytheresa.com or Vestiaire Collective, and start-ups.
“The truth is that the 2.0/3.0 talent do not find the fashion and luxury industry very inspiring, nor very attractive. They need to share the culture and feel that ‘strategy’ means ‘Internet-based strategy,’ without even mentioning the words Internet nor digital,” the recruiter said.
“In addition, flexibility, agility and immediacy are very important to them. And freedom — many of them do not want to be in-house. I certainly recommend to create or to partner with hubs, namely hubs dedicated to artificial intelligence and to the Internet of Everything,” she added.
The urge to implement a meaningful digital strategy — one that transforms the organization from being product-centric to being audience-centric — has to come from the top echelons of the firm: the shareholders, the board and the ceo, de Saint-Pierre believes.
“You attract great candidates when you have a vision, a culture and an ambitious strategy they want to be part of,” she emphasized. “It is crystal-clear for me that the ceo’s of fashion and luxury brands will very soon come with a digital career journey, provided they understand what contemporary culture means.”
François-Henri Pinault, chairman and ceo of Kering — the parent company of brands including Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Puma and Brioni — said the conglomerate relies largely on its e-commerce partner Yoox Net-a-porter to handle the technical side of online sales.
“What matters much more to us is the content, the know-how in terms of online communication, and that can be learned. It’s something that has happened over the last 10 years and gained pace over the last five. At Gucci, for example, 90 percent of the communications team is the same,” he said.
“We have simply changed our strategy, largely by trial-and-error. There have also been changes in the luxury paradigms. We used to be convinced that luxury should be far removed from its customers to maintain an aura of mystery and desirability, with no real dialogue, especially on the creative front,” Pinault said.
He noted that Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele has taken the opposite approach, with a series of collaborative projects like #24HourAce, in which artists were asked to submit short films to be posted on the brand’s Instagram account to spotlight the Ace sneaker.
“This kind of creative interaction responds to a strong demand, in particular from Millennials, which is quite new — and those are not the kind of skills you’re going to find at Apple,” Pinault said. “Rather, you will find them within a certain age group that you have to identify, and then give the necessary room to maneuver.”
Alex Alexander, chief information officer at Yoox Net-a-porter, said the online fashion retailer is also gearing its efforts toward appealing to young talents.
Among its initiatives is the partnership with Bocconi on a course in digital strategy, marketing and e-commerce, and its participation in the international Hour of Code event, with company experts teaching coding to children ages four to 16 at schools, higher learning and training centers in London, Milan and Bologna.
As part of Bocconi’s Master in Fashion, Experience and Design Management, YNAP managers will give lectures and present case studies. The company will also support a group of students with a field project, while some will join the e-tailer’s internship program after graduating.
“We want to create that experience for them, create the expertise, so that some of them will join us but also, some of them will become advocates for other experts that could join us,” said Alexander. “Newer technology excites younger talents, because they do not see any boundaries.”
YNAP has pledged to increase its global technology team by 20 percent as part of its five-year strategic plan unveiled last year, and creating the right environment for top talents is key. “There is a shortage, and that shortage will continue because there’s such a growing demand in the industry,” noted Alexander.
To that end, the group will soon move into its new technology hub in London, of which up to a quarter will be dedicated to adaptive space. Alexander, who previously worked for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s technology arm @Walmart Labs in Silicon Valley, said engineers prefer open-space environments.
“What I remember from my own time working in Silicon Valley is that the office space — the environment, the space for thinking, the space for innovation and the collaboration areas around the office — are key parts of creating that right mind-set for the talent to want to join,” he said.
Above all, the executive feels that fashion and luxury are poised to implement cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, smart data and personalization, to transform their activities in ways that should excite anyone interested in thinking differently and more innovatively.
“The technology innovation, at this particular point in time in our industry, is perfectly positioned for us to make that leap forward and attract the right talent to our company, and fashion and luxury generally,” said Alexander. “It’s less about a culture gap. It’s more about awareness, and communicating that innovation and technology don’t just happen at Google, Facebook or Tesla.”