analyst and has been with the LVMH Group since 2002. Dardenne talks to HT on selling premium watches to price-sensitive Indians. Excerpts:
What is leadership for you?
It’s about having a vision and inspiring a team to reach that vision. Being clear of what you want, makes one a leader.
Being a French, how a leader adapts to the cultural barriers?
The first difficulty I faced in India was to make my English understood despite the French accent. But, now this difficulty is over. I have understood that a leader is best when he/she is respectful and authentic and remains who he/she actually is. He/she should be able to impart clear and frank indications, stop being artificial, and open the set of appreciation and criticism in front of colleagues and seniors.
What is the best leadership decision that you have taken so far?
Providing strong support to my partners, over the past year, when they faced difficult situations has been my best decision. This also proved that despite a direct way of conducting business — with a will to implement clear guidelines to pay tribute to our brands — the clients found us on their side. It didn’t just benefit our brands, but also helped overall watch industry.
And, your worst decision as a leader?
I committed the mistake of wanting to do many things at a time. I took time to understand that one shouldn’t do things, just to do them. I always disliked things done in an imperfect manner. Now, I have learnt to be patient. On the other hand, in a country like India, it is important to use patience as the market is new, and I should wait till the situation matures.
Is there a difference in leadership style when you manage business in India (a developing nation where luxury is still penetrating) and when you manage business in Europe?
Since leadership implies convincing colleagues and partners, one must adapt to the communication style of the respective country. Business style in India is warmer than in some other countries. Partners are hardworking and promising. However, relationships are critical. Nevertheless, I don’t think that special features of one country really impacts what is at the heart of the leadership.
Does organisation plays a crucial role in drafting your leadership style?
Indeed. Being clear on what is needed by the organisation is most beneficial, even if it implies to close some points of sales. Your set of values and perspectives should be moulded in accordance to the need of organisation.
Being a leader of a famous luxury watch house, how do you keep yourself updated about the fashion trends around the globe?
I visit watch shops half of my working time and talk to the staff and the retailers. It is the most efficient way to keep oneself updated.
Has any Indian leader, sportsperson or corporate leader, you have taken notice of, inspired you in some sense?
I still don’t know many Indians, but I keep meeting Shah Rukh Khan (Bollywood actor). He is an incredibly charismatic person and is capable of infusing energy across the environment. Like him, a leader should be known for his charisma and energy. He should not be dull and dark; he must be very lively and active.
Euro zone has been tumultuous. How do you handle bad economic scenario while managing the press enquiries, organisation’s expectations and your inner goals?
A leader must be a good planner and good executor. Role of leadership is proved during the time of crises. Many good leaders go for a toss, and bad leaders arrive, just because of the capacity to deliver while everyone else is broken. Like for say, in India, the watch market has been impacted, however, it still grew by 9% in 2012. A leader should have clarity about the brand positioning, innovation and good distribution that makes brand successful.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
My inspiration is related to 11 years of working in TAG Heuer. The result-oriented drive of the TAG Heuer president, Jean-Christophe Babin, has been a fantastic source of inspiration. At other times, Jack Heuer, great grandson of Edouard Heuer, founder of TAG Heuer, has also been a great source of inspiration.
Where does India stand for you in the list of countries you look to expand business in?
We invest a lot in India because we believe from the present 24th position in the luxury watch market, it will soon be in the top 10. It’s already better in the ranking of our brands. Of course, we don’t know when there will be a boom for luxury goods but, one day, it will come and we will then receive the dividend of our investments.
How do you plan to penetrate further in India?
It depends on the strategy and the maturity of the brands. In the case of Dior, which is available at Rs. 3 lakh and above, penetration implies narrowing the network. In the case of Zenith, present at 6 points of sales and launched in September 2010, the main focus is the top three metros. Many retailers want this brand, which is good, but before expanding the distribution, we want to become successful with a limited number of doors. Regarding TAG Heuer, we are present in 27 cities, and we may still expand to a few more, but not too much. Even if TAG Heuer is now known all over the territory and is a leading watch brand in India, productivity per door will be our main focus, together with expansion through opening some boutiques.
TAG Heuer plans to add seven new boutiques in 2013 taking the total number to 13.