Yves Carcelle is chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, the most successful brand of the $26-billion French luxury conglomerate LVMH. He is also seen by many as the leader among leaders in the world of luxury. He talks about leadership as he sees it.
Who according to you is a true leader?
Well, a true leader is someone with a vision. But then, the vision cannot be achieved unless it percolates down to the colleagues in the organisation. Once it is done then comes the setting up of objectives to effectively implement that vision.
Once the objectives are set, then validate and prioritise and lead the team to achieving that vision. There are many successful leaders in their respective fields and each one is different in their approach.
In the world of luxury you are considered the leader among all chairmen, presidents and CEO, yet you are also seen as someone who keeps close proximity with his employees, to the extent that you even know the names of the doormen as much as the country managers of the 460 stores you have in several countries… Every employee loves you… Comments?
What I am to my colleagues and how I interact with them is something that I have within me, my actions are not deliberate. I am made that way and I love to interact with people. If that contributes to the overall growth of my brand then I am happy. I am also happy that I am loved. But then you can run a family with love, not the company you work for.
I have had occasions where I had to terminate dozens of colleagues who did not perform to my expectations. I believe that if someone is not performing, one should do the favour of making him aware of that fact and help them pursue something where s/he can fare better, rather than keep pushing the person for long and at the end make him or her unproductive, and then realise the time wasted.
To what do you attribute the success of Louis Vuitton?
As I told you what is important is to have a vision. In 1854 the founder, Louis Vuitton started his venture with a vision. He wanted to conquer the world right from the start and worked hard towards it throughout his life... making things that are unique and then reinventing them as he went along. Today, Louis Vuitton does exactly the same, reinventing, rebuilding the brand as we go along.
Where the connoisseur treads, others follow. Whether it is a country, or a location in a country, it is believed that most brands wait till you make your entry and then they follow you… What makes your brand the leader of the world of luxury?
Well, this is nothing new. We were the first to enter the UK market when we set up our first store in London in 1885… it was the first Louis Vuitton overseas store. Then many countries followed and now we have several stores all across the world.
We were the first to enter India in 2003… now with Chennai we have five stores in this country. We look at all aspects very carefully before entering a country or location and we are happy if we are followed wherever we go. We always look forward to achieving the missions set and look ahead in rebuilding our brand, as our founder did in 1854.
But then, you do all the planning and then decide to go to a location and when others follow you there… doesn't it irk you that they are enjoying the fruits of labour?
No. On the contrary I am happy we have their company wherever we go. I much rather have the company of luxury brands with similar profiles than a rug dealer next to my store. Besides, I always liked healthy competition. Like-minded brands being next to each other will also improve the overall conditions that are important for a luxury retail environment. Luxury is all about passion and living in it and the more come close to where we are the merrier it gets for us.
How did Louis Vuitton manage to make profits even during the worst global financial conditions? Every time when there was a recession, your brand kept moving forward.
I think it is all about believing in your brand and never compromising on its quality regardless of the situation you are in. You've got to move forward no matter what. That's what we always did. Of course, along the way one got to be careful. Those who love real luxury will always go for it regardless of the times.
Now comes the best and the worst part… as a leader, what is the best decision that you have taken for Louis Vuitton?
I think one of the best decisions that I have the brand, of course along with LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, was to bring American designer Marc Jacobs as our artistic director in order to rebuild the brand. It worked very well for us. He brought in his vision in design and it pushed the brand further. Also, my decision to enter the Chinese market… it was taken at the right time in 1991 and today we have 41 stores in various part of China.
... and the worst?
Worst I would say is not about a decision taken… it is about a decision that I did not take! Perhaps I should have paid more attention towards exotic skins, controlling and sourcing, way before than we did… now for the last few years we are at it and it is working well for us.