NEW YORK — As part of its “Way Forward” strategic plan, Ralph Lauren Corp. has promoted David Lauren to the new roles of chief innovation officer and vice chairman of the board.
He was previously executive vice president of global advertising, marketing and communications and has served as a board member since 2013.
In his new post, Lauren, 44, will lead company efforts to create initiatives that help drive the group’s brand across all channels. He will continue to report to Stefan Larsson, president and chief executive officer.
Ralph Lauren, the company’s executive chairman and chief creative officer, said, “I am pleased that David is taking on this critical new position which will formalize the role he was already playing and give him the platform and opportunities to do even more.”
“I am excited by my new responsibilities as we intensify our efforts to take our great company to the next level,” said David Lauren, adding he was “energized by the opportunity to establish a systematic and disciplined innovation process that will create real business impact across the company.”
Larsson said that “naming our first chief innovation officer reflects the central importance of innovation to the company’s future and the success of our ‘Way Forward’ plan. I have great confidence in David, and his skill set and track record make him the logical choice for this critical new role in which he will be responsible for building an innovation capability that can have a major impact on the company’s overall brand strength and financial importance.
“For me, the innovation piece is something that David has been driving, but I want him to build up an innovation capability that can really move the needle in moving us forward,” added Larsson. He said the reason he selected Lauren is because “he’s somebody who knows the DNA better than almost anybody else in the company and has extensive experience in driving innovation.”
Lauren, who joined the firm in 2000, has been responsible for the global advertising and marketing campaigns for the group and all of its brands, as well as the firm’s corporate and fashion communications and strategic marketing partnerships. Other initiatives he sparked include introducing one of the industry’s first luxury fashion web sites; leading Ralph Lauren to be among the first brands to create an e-commerce site optimized for mobile phones; introducing QR scan technology to the U.S. for fashion; developing the concept of personalized apparel with the “create-your-own” customization shops; launching the first shoppable 24×7 touchscreen windows at stores, and developing 4-D holographic fashion shows and in-store experiences in New York and London.
Under his direction, Lauren was the first luxury fashion brand to introduce a wearable tech shirt, the PoloTech Shirt. He also organized the company’s global sponsorships of Wimbledon, the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament and Team USA at the Olympics.
In an interview Thursday at company headquarters here, Lauren explained that before Larsson joined as ceo, they met and talked about the company, why he should join and the challenges, opportunities and future of the group. Larsson asked him what he thought made the company unique and Lauren replied, “My father has created an entrepreneurial company that’s small, thoughtful and nimble and we’re always thinking of big ideas. As the culture has gotten bigger and more complicated, I want to make sure for the future that we continue to innovate.”
Several of the ideas Lauren initiated became big businesses, such as the launch of ralphlauren.com, which initially was introduced as a joint venture with NBCUniversal. Others were unique ideas, such as the touchscreen windows and holograms in the company’s retail stores and tennis clinics online.
“We innovated in so many areas and some of them became real businesses, like hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Lauren.
Many of the group’s initiatives, such as the PoloTech Shirt, the holographic windows, the shoppable kiosks — or even the Polo restaurant and coffee shop or the Olympic marketing — need more resources, talent and financial support behind them, he said.
Lauren asked Larsson whether he was committed to building the entrepreneurial spirit in the company, and whether such ideas could be turned into big businesses. Larsson replied that initiatives like these were essential to the group’s success and future and after assessing everything over the last year, the ceo felt they could be real businesses, said Lauren.
For the past 17 years, Lauren has been focused on his marketing and advertising role and he said he now wants to get involved in every part of the company “in a deeper way.”
“I want to work on product development, I want to work on the future of retail, I want to look at how we’re going to innovate at wholesale. I want to look at how the company is going to get set up for the future. I want to have a real impact in helping to shape our future,” said Lauren.
In creating this position, he analyzed companies that had successfully reinvented themselves, such as Porsche, Nike and Apple. “What we found very fascinating was they all really developed groundbreaking ideas that built up the core and innovation,” he said.
He explained that he’s been innovating all along in his job, while also doing his marketing, advertising and communications role. Previously, 95 percent of his job was marketing, advertising and communications. “Now I don’t have to worry about placing that story or developing that ad campaign, or going on that shoot. Now I can work on the myriad of opportunities that we can turn into real businesses for the future,” he said.
“We’re in an age of disruption. Ralph Lauren has been the most disruptive business in fashion, constantly reinventing itself and doing novel things. And building it across all these different brands – men’s to women’s to children’s – but now we want to do things that are even bigger and have more longevity,” said Lauren.
He said all these things are nice ideas, pointing to the Polo Tech Shirt, “but how do you turn it into a business now? We’ve seen the value of this. There are a hundred ideas in the wake of this that need to be developed. The idea is, if I focus on this, build a division and look at what the future of the company can be, we can really re-invent retail, wholesale, the Web business.
“It’s all changing right now. The whole industry is being reinvented,” he continued. “So we better be nimble, we better be tuned in and exploring every opportunity and you have to really commit yourself to be focused on exploring the future of fashion. I want to get out there immediately and see what innovative companies are out there that we can work with and how we can also develop in-house a nimble and entrepreneurial spirit which can infect and excite our own company,” said Lauren.
He’s watched other companies and brands “nipping at our heels” and taking ideas from the group, he said. “Now our thing is to push it way into the future. To get ahead of the competition and to do things that are amazing. The brands that are winning — Apple, Nike and Porsche — they are committed to reinvention all the time,” said Lauren.
Turning to his other role as vice chairman, Lauren said that position will help ensure that he’s working very closely with the board to make sure they can support all the ideas he generates.
Does his appointment as vice chairman signal a succession plan for the company, with the ultimate goal of succeeding his father, 76, as executive chairman?
“I think it’s clear that Ralph Lauren will live forever,” he replied.
All he would say is that he’s vice chairman and “it’s a wonderful opportunity to work closely with my father and work closely with the board on a new level. This is about understanding in a deeper way the opportunities and the business.”
Asked about the succession plan, Larsson would only say: “It signals a belief in David and how important he is to the company.”
The corporation has begun a search for a senior executive to assume the chief marketing officer role. “We have a pretty good team. I think we can run pretty effectively right now. I’m going to be doing a bit of both. Hopefully we can transition. I want to jump in because I want to get ready for the 50th [anniversary next year], which is very important,” Lauren said.
In June, Larsson introduced the company’s “Way Forward” plan that involves a series of initiatives aimed at getting the company back on a growth track. These include speeding up the supply chain; focusing on the core collections of Ralph Lauren, Polo and Lauren; shuttering stores, and eliminating management layers that will result in job cuts of about 8 percent of the company’s workforce, or 1,000 people this year.