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Role Call | Thomas Kowalski, Head of Talent Acquisition

Thomas Kowalski, head of talent acquisition at Kering, says "listen and watch — these are essential ingredients in the luxury fashion industry today. You shouldn’t follow the trend, but lead by doing something different."
Thomas Kowalski | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Helena Pike

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

LONDON, United Kingdom — Thomas Kowalski is the head of talent acquisition at Kering. Kowalski joined Virgin Atlantic immediately after college, serving the British Airline as a recruitment assessor for six years. Kowalski then spent a year as a recruitment consultant for Reed, before taking a six-month sabbatical to travel around the world. In 2010, he moved to Birmingham and worked as a recruitment consultant for CVUK, before moving again in 2011, to Manchester, where he joined Topshop Topman as regional recruitment officer. In 2012, Kowalski relocated to London, while maintaining the same role. A year later, he was promoted to recruitment manager of the British high street retailer. In 2014, Kowalski was appointed head of talent acquisition at Kering, where he is responsible for talent management and recruitment for brands such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

I am responsible for attracting top talent for our portfolio of luxury brands in the UK, Europe, the USA and Asia Pacific for Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney and Kering UK. I manage our worldwide recruitment strategy to ensure an effective service is delivered to our worldwide business. I work with the creative and leadership, as well as overseeing all corporate, head office and design recruitment in the UK.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

It’s quite easy — Kering is a world of creativity and craftsmanship. It’s a group that helps people to succeed in what they believe in and are good at. I’m privileged to be working with teams across our business who are always socially responsible, whether they’re leading our corporate departments, being part of our retail service teams or sourcing beautiful fabrics for next season collections. Everyone has a part to play and everyday, I get to contribute to this success by meeting talent across the industry. It’s superb!

BoF: What is the most exciting project you have worked on?

Every year I am invited to Graduate Fashion Week here in London to scout designers of the future. It’s a showcase of over 1,000 of the top design students, who have been selected from the most influential universities across the globe. It’s a place where graduates can secure their first design positions at businesses like Kering and is responsible for some of most successful careers and designers in the industry, such as Stella McCartney. It is such a fresh and exciting time to meet and talk with the students and understand the story behind their graduate collections. Matching their aesthetic and handwriting to a fashion house within the Kering group is a privilege.

Invest in your team, bring them with you and let them flourish with responsibility. You are the gateway to people's future and success, so always be interested.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

Over the last three years the role of talent acquisition has evolved massively. Our talent acquisition strategy focused on the UK market and employer branding and we managed our local recruitment with support from our search firms, instead of tapping into our global talent pool. Now with advanced digital technology, I am able to connect with top talent instantly at a touch of a button. The industry is being shaped with new global talent networks and changing views of careers. Talent acquisition is being expanded as companies look for new ways to engage and access people, through contracting and freelancers. Recruitment is being replaced by a strategic talent acquisition function, focusing on employer branding and attraction. There is huge focus to identify talent using social media tools.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

I always wanted to be liked, so in the team I always said “yes.” Early on in my career, I had to be involved and be recognised. I took on additional responsibilities to be the most productive member of the team. I was always saying “yes,” but I wasn’t always delivering — often failing. Taking on a major project, being a coach and mentor to the new team, running the company marathon, volunteering to support a weekend assessment, as well as doing the day job! Something had to give — such as not meeting the project deadline or being prepared. I lacked focus and confidence and I failed when presenting to my key stakeholders. I had taken on too much by always saying “yes” to impress. Now I measure the importance of a task, its timescale and give it realistic deadline. I say yes to what I’m strong at and what I know I will execute with quality and substance. I know my limits now and that less is more. It’s a case of likeability versus credibility. Do it right, do it well and be recognised.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

You have to be human, you have to have made mistakes. When you think of an idea, make a note, it will always be useful. When you see something eye-catching, take a picture, it will always be useful. When you can meet new people, listen to their story, it will always be useful. You should also experience diverse cultures and work in different environments. You must be resilient and have solid interpersonal skills, but be able to prioritise and know the difference between right and wrong. Listen and watch — these are essential ingredients to be present in the luxury fashion industry today. You shouldn’t follow the trend, but lead by doing something different to be ahead of the competition. Look at what talent is doing and where they are going, and where your next generation of talent is coming from. Invest in your team, bring them with you and let them flourish with responsibility. You are the gateway to people’s future and success, so always be interested.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more jobs like this, visit BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.

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