Marco Bizzarri is feeling Gucci — and that’s a very good thing.
Although the brand’s sales increase of 49 percent in the third quarter was reason enough to celebrate, the top-line rush might be more effect than cause when it comes to that smiley feeling.
After accepting the WWD Edward Nardoza Honor for CEO Creative Leadership Tuesday night, the Gucci president and chief executive officer gave what amounted to a master class in management the following morning at the WWD CEO Summit.
He started with emotion; recounting a story told to him by a landlord in Taipei, who said his 16-year-old daughter texted friends, “I feel Gucci,” when she wanted to say, “I feel good.”
Bizzarri, who joined the company in 2015, credited creative director Alessandro Michele for the brand’s growing appeal to the younger crowd — also pointing to how six- and nine-year-old brothers Jamison and Hudson Kroenig, sons of model Brad Kroenig, came over to him at the Honors dinner specifically to meet him. But clearly feeling good at Gucci starts at the top and the ceo said he has worked to understand how his 11,000 employees are feeling, to connect with them, to learn from them and empower them to push the brand forward.
While that goes for all of Gucci’s employees, Bizzarri has a special connection to Michele, whose take on the luxe brand has captured the consumer imagination.
“Alessandro is, by very far, my best professional choice,” Bizzarri said. “I could tell you so many stories about how smart I was in choosing Alessandro, but in fact it was completely by chance.”
Michele, who had spent 12 years in design at the brand, was not on the list of candidates for the top design job at the Italian luxury house when it was looking to replace then-creative director Frida Giannini.
“It really just happened, I asked my associate director to tell me one name in the design team that is able to tell me about the processes of Gucci and how we design — it happened to be Alessandro.”
Bizzarri went to Michele’s apartment and, when the designer opened the door wearing fur-lined Gucci loafers (although the brand recently banned fur), he immediately saw something. And he was quickly sold by the way Michele was able to bring together things from the brand’s past and make something new.
“Intuition in this case is superimportant, even more than rationality,” Bizzarri said about choosing Michele as creative director.
The ceo said he respects Michele, not just as a creative talent, but as a person — an approach Bizzarri used earlier as he led Bottega Veneta and Stella McCartney. But having respect for creative talent also means protecting them. The ceo recalled how the initial reviews of Michele’s collections were critical and that “a certain financial paper — The Financial Times” even ran a story with the headline that Gucci’s new strategy wasn’t working after only three months of the duo being on the job. “It takes at least 12 months for results to be seen,” Bizzarri said.
“I’m not a designer,” the ceo said. “They will never be able to do what I do, but I’m sure that I will not be able to do what they do. As soon as I understand that their capability, their creativity is something that is true, is not fake, that could last, then to me it’s very easy. It’s a matter of respecting the person more than the creative talent. I think it becomes very normal. If I have a problem, I call Alessandro…it’s never a fight, we work together.”
That’s Bizzarri’s approach down the line.
“You can craft the best strategy possible, but if the culture doesn’t support you, you will fail, there’s no doubt,” he said.
The brand’s culture also didn’t suit Bizzarri.
“When I joined Gucci, a culture of fear was predominant,” he said.
He said leaders of big companies today have to unlearn what they learned before and listen to keep up because the world is changing too quickly and companies need to operate with cultures that can also shift swiftly.
“It’s not sending an e-mail to 11,000 people and [saying,] ‘You know what, be happy,’” Bizzarri said. “You need to go there, be shaking hands and listen. Show respect and then you can have respect. I would never be able to have the competence of 11,000 people or the brain of 11,000 people, it’s impossible. What I’m asking my people is something that goes to leading by example.”
So Bizzarri meets not just with his executive committee, but also a shadow executive committee that’s made up of people under 30 who tell him what’s working and what’s not and often dives into the same topics the corporate leadership does.
He also has lunches with people who are under 35 and asks them for three ideas on what could be done to improve life at Gucci. Throughout the organization, though, there is the attitude that “‘no’ is not a viable answer” to the question of whether something can be done. “You have to constantly challenge the status quo,” Bizzarri said.
The bad news for other brands looking to grow their topline by 49 percent next quarter is that — beyond connecting the right culture with the right strategy — there is no magic formula to follow.
“If I could go back three years ago, I could easily write a case study about Gucci, how brave we were, how smart we were,” Bizzarri said. “You ask me to do the same thing in another company, I cannot do it. It’s impossible to replicate it. Time is a superimportant variable and momentum is important. At that specific moment, the fashion was a little bit boring. Everybody was doing exactly the same thing. Today, challenge the status quo is the rule. It’s not a choice anymore.”
Of course, that blistering growth sets up Gucci for some difficulty down the line as comparisons grow more difficult.
“Many people are asking me, why don’t you grow less,” Bizzarri said. “And, you know, I tend to be very optimistic in general, I try to see the glass as half full. I’m enjoying the trip so much. I’m not thinking about the next day.”
He said the brand would find some new project or initiative and continue to expand.
“You know, you need to enjoy what you’re doing,” Bizzarri said. “Otherwise, you do bad, you’re bad. You do well, you think tomorrow is going to be bad. At some point, you have to decide what you’re going to do with your life. So smile and enjoy.”
That’s feeling Gucci.