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!

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