This interview is part of BoF’s State of Fashion 2018 report, published in partnership with McKinsey & Company. For more insights into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the global fashion industry, download the report here.
MILAN, Italy — Marco Bizzarri is Gucci’s president and chief executive, who, after appointing Alessandro Michele as creative director in 2015, has led the Italian fashion house into the strongest period of financial growth and critical success it has seen in 20 years.
BoF: How has your culture-change programme played a role in Gucci’s turnaround?
Marco Bizzarri: The most important thing, after identifying the positioning of the brand, is attracting the right people. People are at the centre of everything in the fashion industry, not just in terms of product, but in terms of creativity and business. What I try to do is make sure that people foster a culture of respect that includes everybody. They are placed for more talents. They are placed to work together. They are placed to be transparent.
You can have the best strategy ever, but you will lose it if the culture does not sustain the strategy. The culture is the most difficult thing to create, because you are talking about people; human beings who change every day in their behaviour, attitude and perceptions. You need to make it an ongoing activity and that means leading by example. You need to show that you believe in that and that you [remove] all the people who do not follow this kind of respect you want to create in the company.
If I can create this kind of culture in the company — and I think we are doing it — then the talent will come. Our industry is very small, everybody talks; so the best talents now send their CVs to Gucci all the time. They know that, despite the success of the brand, the way that we work is a good way to work. I am always there so do not [always] realise, but if you stand back and look at it, all these people — young people — proudly dressed in Gucci, all smiling. Being able to create this sort of energy and creativity, both in terms of product and business, is fostering [success]. Other companies can do the right product for the season, but they can cannot copy our [people]. That is the difference.
BoF: How do you personally get involved and role model this culture?
MB: I try to push everybody to take risks and make mistakes — and not kill them if they make mistakes. Of course, if they make the same mistake twice it is a problem. That is something that comes from your past, your experience as a person. It is not something you can write in an email. You need to show on a daily basis that you really believe in these values.
BoF: You have done what you set out to achieve. Is that what you mean when you talk about completing the puzzle?
MB: Yes. What I mean is that it is like writing a book. You have a lot of chapters; they are linked together, but they are different. Gucci is writing different chapters. Alessandro is writing different chapters at every single show and we are writing different chapters in the business. We are writing different chapters to try to change an organisation and culture on a daily basis — and we are not finished.
We are writing different chapters to try to change an organisation and culture on a daily basis — and we are not finished. You need to see things in different ways, because the industry and the world are changing too fast. I think that the old way of managing a company is finished, especially for CEOs who are used to working in the same way.
There is a place in Hvar where they found startups that are linked to Singularity University, created by scientists like Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, who foresee a different way of education. They say the way that universities and schools are educating kids is outdated, because the pace of change in technology is so high today that you cannot rely on what you learn.
Sometimes your experience is the worst prison for you. I went there two weeks ago as a student for seven days to be bombarded by these new ideas. Tomorrow, we are going to this off-site in Treviso with the company, because we want to be sure that the organisation we have in Gucci is going to change. You need to work in a completely different way, where the most senior person is not necessarily the one deciding, but the one with more knowledge is deciding — maybe that’s a kid who is 25 years old!
BoF: Engaging with young people seems to be a big part of your strategy — and more than half of your customers are now Millennials.
MB: We have this executive committee called Comex; I have created this one called “Shadow Comex,” which is made up of people around 30 years old who I ask to discuss the same topics that I discuss with my other colleagues, to see what feedback we can get. It is just a matter of creating a way [to ask] questions [and get] a different perspective.
The most intelligent people are not working for you, especially in technology or data science, etcetera, so where are they? You need to find them. Maybe not with the normal employment contract, but [you need to] try to source creativity from outside in an interesting way. It is very good to realise that, instead of just hiring people. You can go and scout these people through the internet, in India or wherever, and [host contests] on certain projects; the one that wins, gets the position. For example, I could deploy 10 teams around the world to find the best way to display products in the shops, and I offer $10,000 to the one who finds the best way to display the products in the shops.
The idea is to find different ways to use the organisation. I have people at corporate [headquarters] who are trying like crazy [to source talent] and we do not find people — especially in the shops. Finding [retail] staff is a big issue. You need to see things in different ways, because the industry and the world are changing too fast. I think that the old way of managing a company is finished, especially for CEOs who are used to working in the same way. We are human beings, we tend not to innovate. We tend to protect what we were doing in the past.
This interview has been edited and condensed.