Luxury Brand Management - Visit to the Omega SA Manufacture

By Emilia Wilson, Global MBA Ambassador 2018-2019, Luxury Brand Management Major

During our final installment of international trips, the Luxury Brand Management participants went to Switzerland to explore the watchmaking industry. An alumnus of the ESSEC MBA in International Luxury Brand Management program was gracious enough to offer us the opportunity to visit the Omega headquarters in Bienne, a major hub within the Swiss watch industry.

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Upon our arrival early one Monday morning, we were welcomed by our alumnus and a variety of other members of the Omega team. Moments after settling into a meeting room, we were honored by the presence of the President and Chief Executive Officer, Raynald Aeschlimann, who shared his passion for Omega, his thoughts on the industry as a whole, and his best wishes for our futures. The presentation that ensued covered the history of the brand from its inception and the monumental moon landing in 1969, through to 1995 when Mr. Nicolas G. Hayek, the founder of Swatch Group, turned the business around to the strong pillar of the industry that it is today. A discussion of the business strategy, communication pillars, product, and distribution closed out this portion of our visit, followed by a tour of the new production facilities that were inaugurated in 2017. The oldest building on Omega’s campus was built in 1917. The juxtaposition of buildings new and old solidify the image of the brand as an age-old player in this industry.

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Japanese architect Shigeru Ban brought his personal style to Bienne, while not forgetting local design culture or the world of sustainability. In an effort to be physically and metaphorically transparent, the glass-enclosed building features visitor areas in the middle of each floor, showcasing the human touch given to each Omega watch.

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The changes that took place during the move to this new production area also included innovations of process. The move to a paperless facility eliminated the possibility of contaminating the movements with paper dust. Aligning with the stricter laws for the “Swiss Made” label and going even further than necessary, Omega made traceability of each component of each movement possible with a new system that will also help them improve productivity and beyond. One of the most major advances in Omega’s recent production is the dedication to creating watches that are Master Chronometer Certified. This certification, awarded by METAS, requires every single watch to pass eight very strict tests, including those of water resistance, magnetic resistance, and time variance.

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With a clear understanding of the production and certification processes, it was time to discover the product in a hands-on demonstration. After a brief overview of each of the four families – Constellation, Speedmaster, Seamaster, and De Ville – we had the wonderful opportunity to see and touch models from across the product range. Geared with all the knowledge we’d absorbed over the last few hours, the participants were asking questions about the timepieces, trying them, and noting the references for their graduation present wish lists.

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It’s not a common occurrence to have the opportunity to tour a manufacture such as this, not to mention share a few moments with the global President and CEO. On behalf of our participants, I would like to thank each member of the Omega team who treated us to this lovely experience. We will hold this with us for years to come.

Luxury Brand Management Visit to Hong Kong

By Emilia Wilson, Global MBA Ambassador 2018-2019, Luxury Brand Management Major

For one week, the Luxury Brand Management participants visited Hong Kong for the first of the international travels involved in our program. It was during this time that we met with a plethora of the companies, about which we’ve been studying since our arrival in August.

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After a long redeye flight from Paris on Saturday, the group arrived on Sunday morning. Once we settled at the hotel (and had a strong cup of coffee), we set off to explore the city a bit before the busy week ahead. As some of our colleagues are from or are familiar with Hong Kong, we were lucky enough to benefit from their local expertise on this day and all to come.

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The following day, we started at 9:00 am with a presentation by the consultancy firm SAME SAME but different, which caters to luxury firms on digital marketing efforts. We heard about many case studies of the firm’s past work, exemplifying what it is they do. With headquarters in Paris and offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and New York, SAME SAME but different is able to leverage the international talent to localize strategies to the given market. The presentation demonstrated the specificities of Hong Kong and greater China.

As mentioned above, some of our participants already have exposure to the region; however, for the majority of the rest, it offered us a wealth of information on this market that made it easier to understand the figures and trends that were mentioned in all the ensuing conversations. Some important topics that bled through almost all of the case studies were the importance of influencers, social media platforms such as WeChat & Douyin, localized content like that which celebrates Chinese New Year, and a move from online to offline, highlighting the need for unique experiences. We concluded with a round of questions in regard to the measurement of return on investment (ROI) for key opinion leader (KOL) campaigns, the watch industry in China, and sustainability.

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We were then joined by the recruitment team from Richemont Asia Pacific. With 29,000 employees worldwide and 19 brands in its portfolio, Richemont is a powerhouse in this industry. Though that may seem massive, we learned about the autonomy each brand is able to maintain, allowing each to function as the small firms that they have always been. This luxury group boasts some of the world’s top watch, jewelry, and fashion brands, such as Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Chloé, and Alfred Dunhill. Beginning with an introduction on the company as a whole, we then moved to presentations about the Specialist Watchmakers, the Fashion & Accessories brands, the Jewellery Maisons, and TimeVallée, a multi-brand watch boutique operation. A briefing on what it means to be part of the Richemont team and some of the potential opportunities within their expansive portfolio concluded the presentation.

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It was then time for lunch and the group sent off for an incredible dim sum experience, organized by one of our participants from Hong Kong. Afterward, we went immediately back to the conference center to meet our next guests.

For the afternoon and the evening of our first day, we gathered with an amazing group of ESSEC alumni who are living and working in Hong Kong. They offered a wealth of knowledge and experiences across the luxury industry. During the Alumni Panel, we heard from five alumni about their career paths pre- and post-ESSEC, before launching into a round of Q&A. We covered the grey market, omnichannel operations, large conglomerates versus small, independent brands, and life as a consultant. Once we moved to UpperHouse for apéros, several others joined us to enjoy the beautiful space and engage in conversations about the state of luxury in Hong Kong. Professor Denis Morriset mentioned to us that those with us that evening made up only a small fraction of the ESSEC alumni based in Hong Kong, demonstrating to us both the importance of Hong Kong in luxury and importance of ESSEC alumni worldwide.

The following morning, we departed our hotel for Kowloon, where DFS is headquartered and operates one of their downtown T Galleria stores. DFS, a notably important travel retail company, is owned by LVMH. It was during this meeting that we met with members of the Human Resources team and three ESSEC alumni. Our discussions covered their global business and career opportunities across the company. The presentations from alumni detailed their journeys that started at ESSEC and led them to DFS.

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After learning about DFS as a whole and these individual members who, together, make up the foundation of DFS’s success, the group departed for the T Galleria store downstairs of the headquarters. Throughout the tour, we discussed the organizational structures, marketing & communications direction, and merchandising processes within each department. The path we followed around the store, carefully designed by the visual merchandising team, took us first through the cosmetics & fragrances area on the bottom floor, then up one floor to the watch area, and finally to the top floor, which featured the large boutiques for top brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Cartier. Our participants had the opportunity to ask insightful questions of our guide, a manager of the store who personally knows well the clientele, the business, and the partnerships.

Our visit concluded with a return upstairs for a networking lunch with the Human Resources team and the various ESSEC alumni now working with DFS. In a more casual setting, the Luxury Brand Management MBA participants got to know a bit better the team and their unique stories with DFS.

As travel retail represents about 50% of all luxury purchases worldwide, DFS holds a very important place within the industry. Its position in travel retail and within the LVMH group makes DFS an attractive employer for many of our participants, especially those who are interested in international careers, learning about the different luxury sectors, and working alongside many of the world’s top luxury brands. The opportunity to visit the global headquarters, hear about career paths within DFS from the Human Resources team and ESSEC alumni alike, and tour a T Galleria store with a manager proved to be a wonderful experience for the whole group.

During the next few hours, we broke out to our teams, with which we were completing the Retail & Distribution Analysis for Professor Morriset’s class, to visit stores around Hong Kong before our next appointment.

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By 5:30 pm that evening, we were together again to meet with members of Audemars Piguet Hong Kong at the newly minted AP House, a directly-operated boutique and lifestyle touchpoint. The Swiss watch industry has almost purely relied on licensing independent jewelers to sell their product, rather than functioning as both manufacturers and retailers. The industry is in a transition phase at the moment, moving toward attaining greater control of the distribution and communication to the final clients. Audemars Piguet’s move to come away from the more extensive distribution network they once had to investing further in mono-brand boutiques and exclusive directly-operated environments is a clear demonstration of this trend.

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Once inside AP House, we were welcomed by members of the Commercial & Marketing Departments, who spoke with us about the company as a whole, the development of AP House, and the local market. A dialogue ensued which touched on a wide array of topics. The release of the Code 11:59 line, which took place in mid-January at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, was one of the first subjects raised by our participants. We then covered a few important initiatives within the company, such as focusing on women & gender equality, innovating while still preserving the art of watchmaking, and staying true to their three pillars of Art, Music, and Sports.

The AP team then treated us to a champagne and hors-d'œuvre networking hour, during which we were able to chat with each member to learn more about their roles, the brand, and Hong Kong. This opportunity to have the ultimate brand experience with members of the Hong Kong team was such a privilege and it brought us all directly into the world of Audemars Piguet.

Our third morning in Hong Kong brought us together with members of the Moët Hennessy Asia Pacific Recruitment and Marketing teams. The discussion began with an in-depth description of the spirit and skills they look for in new employees. This expressed the values of the company as a whole and specifically for the Asia Pacific region. Afterward, an analysis of the Asia Pacific and worldwide wine & spirits market was presented so as to offer a greater understanding of how important this market is becoming in this particular sector. Further to this key quantitative information, we also learned about the important trends occurring worldwide in regard to drinking habits, tastes, and purchasing habits.

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In the afternoon, we had the great pleasure of joining yet another ESSEC alumna, who shared with us her journey from ESSEC to Moncler, the history of the brand, and her assessment of the Asia Pacific luxury market. In a very interactive manner, the participants had the opportunity to ask freely their questions, which by, Day Three, were getting further and further tuned to the intricacies of the local markets. Discussions flowed through digital and omnichannel operations, management of people, counterfeiting, the importance of retail, hierarchical and group structures, and handling the stress of high-powered positions. We were left with the following final words for our job searches: “Be objective, but show personality.”

To finish the day, we were joined by two members of L’Oréal Luxe, a member of the Human Resources team and a Marketing Manager in Travel Retail. The presentation provided a detailed understanding of the competitive landscape for cosmetics & fragrances, eCommerce, and the changes in spending habits within travel retail. We then moved to an exploration of the role of Marketing Manager through several case studies on launches, campaigns, client segment studies, and competitive analyses.

At 9:00 am on our fourth day of conferences, we had the luxury of a meeting with an ESSEC alumnus, who joined LVMH in 2001 with Céline and is now part of the management of the LVMH Fashion Group. He presented to us an inside look at the ambitions that drive the decision-making processes, the key challenges they’re facing, and the distribution models employed by the group. At the very beginning, a statement from LVMH was shared with us – “People make the difference.” It was clear during the entirety of the presentation the importance placed on the teams involved in each stage of ideation through to implementation. We were left with a set of guiding principles for one’s attitude that will encourage creativity and innovation, promote healthy collaboration, and, in the end, bring success.

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Later, at Kering offices, we sat for a presentation from members of the Communication & Media and Human Resources teams. The first half of the session was focused on the sustainability initiatives that are fiercely under way at Kering. With the help of PwC, Kering introduced the EP&L, the Environmental Profit & Loss, a tool with which they are able to measure the environmental impact of their business activities. In 2013, the Materials Innovation Lab (MIL) was founded with the intention of alleviating the severe repercussions and environmental damage caused by the textile industry. They are also now doing the same for the watch & jewelry industry with a similar lab in Switzerland. This multifaceted push is a group-wide initiative with clear goals for 2025, which are well underway.

With this information, we were then presented the key figures, the history, and the strategy of the group as whole, all through a lens of talent resourcing and collaboration. A brief overview of each brand under Kering was presented before we arrived at the Q&A portion of the meeting, during which we touched upon the specificities of the Chinese market, the company culture at Kering, omnichannel operations, and the process of governance between the group and the brands. Three tenets – to care, to collaborate, and to create – are central to each of Kering’s actions, which was evident from their efforts toward sustainability, gender equality, and talent development.

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After a full day of presentations, we were off to a cocktail with our friend and fellow ESSEC grad from the LVMH Fashion Group at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. With beautiful views of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, we networked with more of his team, some of whom were also members of the ESSEC family. A conversation I had that evening with an alumna showed me just how important this network is and how often in the world of luxury the name ESSEC will come across your desk. If I may speak for our group, I would say it was incredible to see just how widespread the net of ESSEC Business School grads is in every sector, in every group, and in every market. This proved to be a beautiful night in a stunning location surrounded by lovely and like-minded people.

Our last full day in Hong Kong kicked off with a session from Chanel, notably one of the most secretive groups within the luxury industry, which remains privately-held. With a robust team of management in attendance, the experience was truly unique. Much of the discussions centered around the push into the digital space in an innovative way. While Chanel cosmetics, fragrances, and eyewear are for sale online, the core products are not available anywhere but in store. The strongest piece of this initiative is rather to focus on the experience both online and offline, by way of using consumer and market insights to deepen the connection with their client at every touchpoint. The round of questions from our participants brought up topics including their high jewelry line, pop ups, and the company culture.

The next two session, the last two of our Hong Kong visit, were both from the LVMH group – the first with Louis Vuitton North Asia and the second with Fresh APAC.  

Our meeting with Louis Vuitton North Asia covered quite a bit of hard data on travel retail, consumer groups, the effect of economics & politics, and omnichannel operations within the luxury sphere. This provided an insightful close to the Hong Kong visit, which reflected the presentation on the first day from SAME SAME but different that also focused on the market as a whole. Though, as this was coming from a brand, there was a clear distinction in perspective compared to that of the consultancy. Our Q&A session ranged from topics of onboarding and sustainability at Louis Vuitton, to the watch & jewelry segment and online retailing for the whole luxury market.

And last, but assuredly not least, was a presentation from Fresh APAC, the skincare brand acquired by LVMH in 2000. Areas of dialogue encompassed quantitative data for particular countries, political effects on the Asia Pacific region, popularity for specific product categories, and the spread of market share amongst top brands. The speaker also covered numerous skincare trends that are reigning supreme in the Asian market. While some of these are spreading across the Western regions, it was eye-opening to see the ways in which technology has become integral in the marketing and commercial realms of the skincare business.

To conclude the first of our international study trips, Professor Morriset asked the group to identify several common themes that we picked up throughout our meetings. After twelve conferences and two cocktail networking events in five short days, we were buzzing with an incredible amount of new information and a bit of sleep deprivation. We had covered each of the four personal luxury good sectors – fashion & accessories, cosmetics & fragrances, wines & spirits, and watches & jewelry. We had met with four of the most major luxury groups in the world – LVMH, Richemont, Kering, and L’Oréal. We had spoken with executives, in roles such as General Manager, President, and Vice President, as well as high-ranking members from Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, and Finance departments. With stacks of new business cards and very full notebooks, the Luxury Brand Management participants were ready to get on a flight back to Paris the following morning and to apply this new learning to our future coursework.

Clearly, this incredible opportunity offered each of us a brand new or refreshed sense of the luxury market in Asia Pacific and Hong Kong specifically. On behalf of the entire class, I would like to extend our deepest gratitude to everyone who made this such a fulfilling and memorable visit. Thank you to all!

Global MBA Business Trip to New York

Several participants from the MBA cohort of 2019 had a chance to head to New York to gain an understanding of the broader aspects of the finance industry. During the trip, we visited Goldman Sachs, KKR, Ardian, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Candriam Asset Management, Clifford Chance, Natixis, BNP Paribas, White Star Capital, Federal Reserve. 

Visit to KKR

One company that we visited was Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, better known as KKR, a global leader in the investment and private equity business.

Our aim was to understand the private equity (PE) business from the eyes of the experts. The presentation began with an overview of the PE industry before delving into two KKR acquisition case studies in the entertainment and manufacturing industries.

Within the entertainment industry, we analyzed a case study on the Ultimate Fighting Club, UFC, which agreed to sell itself to a consortium with the equity financing coming from KKR. The $4bil investment to acquire UFC was a significant appreciation from the $2mil cost of the previous acquisition in 2001. The case study went through the current entertainment market, the revenue drivers in the industry and moving to the negotiation of the license, a key component of the deal.

An opportunity to apply what we learnt in the classroom
Reflecting on my firm valuation course, I could see the connect and importance of understanding the market. The entertainment industry was going through a transformation. Increase in revenues from pay per view subscription and growth opportunities of viewers in China made this a promising business. The second aspect was analyzing the business growth drivers. One such driver was the contract negotiation with Fox which was renewed in 2018. The importance of the contract ensured a significant increase in UFC’s revenues further providing an appreciation to the firm value.

From entertainment, we moved to manufacturing, where we analyzed KKR’s acquisition of C.H.I. Overhead Doors, a leading manufacturer of overhead garage doors in North America. The role of differentiation was key in this acquisition. C.H.I.’s business model was unique as it was working on a made-to-order basis. Linking back to our Operations lecture, I could understand that a made-to-order meant no inventory (or little inventory) being held. The second interesting piece was the inexpensive real estate where the factories were present. This meant that scaling up would not be too costly. Its unique business model led to significant growth with limited capital expenditure, making it a cash cow from KKR’s perspective. From a strategy perspective, I could see the key differentiation that C.H.I. had in comparison to all other firms, driving its value proposition.

Overall, both these case studies gave me a perspective of market drivers and business drivers to drive financials. The role of these drivers was crucial to understanding where the business was heading to in the future. While the discounted cash flow was important, the prediction of future cash flows was driven by market and business drivers. I had a macro-perspective of the connection between our strategy, finance, marketing, and operations classes to the financials and modeling to understand and forecast the business, and this is a key process within the private equity industry.

Visit to the New York Stock Exchange
We also had a chance to visit the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). When I think
of a stock exchange, I think of charts, graphs, piles of paper, ears glued to the phone and constant hustle and bustle. My mother, being a former stockbroker in Bombay, would explain to me the functioning of the share market. Keeping both of these in mind, I was very excited to discover the biggest stock exchange in the world.

A stock exchange, in essence, is a market place to connect buyers and sellers of securities. NYSE is the world’s largest stock exchange with a market cap of ~30 trillion. My preconceptions of a stock exchange were changed as I walked into the NYSE. The hustle and bustle were replaced by computers and piles of papers were replaced by software for buy and sell side orders. Technology has played a key role in automating many of the processes. A trading floor of what was ~5000 traders had come down to ~500, with many of the deals being done through the various systems. We got a demo of the system and what is it that the traders look for. It ran through the algorithms that run in the background for buy and sell orders along with all up to date news on various companies.

I could understand the efficient market hypothesis just with the speed of transactions and information that was being analyzed, reflecting on stock prices with all available information. The speed of decision making was clearly evident as the traders explained what they look for at the end of the day.

Considering there are many trading firms, how does one differentiate from the other players? Relationships and service were key. Despite all the complexity and technical expertise, the role of relationships was clearly evident to build an effective firm.

As we got an understanding of J.P Morgan and their trading system, I could understand the idea of the relationships between the market makers. However, building an effective relationship when you have two parties with different KPIs and sometimes contrasting objectives is difficult. I could see our negotiation class in action here as the traders worked with one another on buy and sell orders for their clients while determining the volume and price. Dealing with millions of dollars, negotiations were crucial especially considering the price volatility and volume of trade.

Overall, the visit to the NYSE was a great opportunity for us to understand the technical aspect of finance combined with technological advancements. This was put together with a strong emphasis on business negotiations and relationship building. I could relate back to the wisdom my mother provided when she was a broker. “You have to know trades and who to trade with at your fingertips”, in other words, quick and accurate decision making is crucial.

Global MBA – Digital Week Competition

by Anirban Paul, Global MBA Ambassador 2018-2019, Strategy and Management Major

After a hectic week of globetrotting for the business trips, the Global MBA cohort came together in Cergy for the most awaited Digital Week Competition 2019. It was the perfect occasion to welcome our Singapore-based classmates to Cergy, and this competition offered an ideal platform for participants from both locations to work together.

The Format

In its second edition for the Global MBA batch, the Digital Week Competition is an intense, week-long competition where seven companies across industries, including some major ESSEC partners, share real-life real business cases and strategic issues related to digital transformation. A total of 21 teams (three teams assigned to each company) were expected to perform the role of digital consultants, part of a digital agency competing against other teams to share the best approach and solution to the cases shared by these companies.

The preparation and approach

After an introduction to the Digital Week Competition by the managing committee, teams worked closely with the assigned companies to understand the cases and start working towards a solution. Coaches with extensive industry experience were assigned to work closely with teams and provide guidance. The preparation for the finals was a journey filled with an ebb and flow of emotions and a crash course on how things work in the business world.

The grand finale

An intense week of preparation was followed by the presentation of digital solutions by the teams to representatives of their assigned companies. After a thorough review, each company selected one team that would represent them at the grand finale. The stage was set for the grand finale, with seven teams ready to showcase their skills as digital consultants. All the presentations were an excellent mix of strategy, marketing, emotions and humor. At the end, the team from Moët Hennessy (Giulia, Kristine, Malek and Christophe) won the Grand Prize, with the team from Candriam (Antoine, Anirban, Rodney, and Kailash) winning the Special Prize and the team from Y-experience (Shreya, Paul, and Faye) winning the Participant’s Choice award.

Grand Prize: The Moët Hennessy team

Special Prize: The Candriam team

Participants' Choice: The Y Experience Team

The importance of this event

The Digital Week Competition provides an insight into the business world and the key challenges companies face in the digital world. The opportunity to participate in an intense and competitive environment simulates real-world challenges and prepares students to get a glimpse of the environment they would be working in post MBA. Apart from showcasing strategic and digital skills, students are also given the opportunity to develop their people management skills, which are extremely critical to succeed in the professional world. The Digital Week Competition also sets the tone to the longer Capstone project where teams would work with companies to resolve more complex problems and design more impactful, long-term solutions for the client.

Presentation by Nicole Comeau, General Manager and Chief Strategy Officer of Olivier Theyskens

By Emilia Wilson, Global MBA Ambassador 2018-2019, Luxury Brand Management Major

During our weekly Alumni Conference, the Luxury Brand Management participants had the wonderful opportunity to meet Ms. Nicole Comeau (MBA in International Luxury Brand Management Class of 2006), General Manager and Chief Strategy Officer of the fashion house Olivier Theyskens. A woman with a wealth of experiences in the luxury industry, Ms. Comeau was able to share with us her career path, which provided us with another great success story of a graduate of this program. Further to hearing about her story, we learned about Olivier Theyskens, the man and the label, as well as her take on the global market of luxury retail.