Technology: Threat or Opportunity?

By João Tapioca, ESSEC Global MBA Strategy & Management major 2019-2020

We had an inspiring session with Céline Marchal Dassonville from Ethiwork on how technology can be used to create a positive social and environmental impact. Our first lesson was that technology is not good nor bad in itself, but it is never neutral. Technology always brings change and the direction of change is highly dependable on human intentionality for its ordering and purpose. This is a pivotal role played by strategy consultancies especially those concerned with economic, social and environmental sustainability such as Ashoka, Ethiwork, BSR and GreenFlex among many others.

Céline stressed the difference between Tech for Good, Tech in Good and Impact Tech. While the first is related with the outcome provided by the technology, the second concerns the use of the technology itself. Tech for Good is developing a Bubble Barrier that prevents plastics disposed in rivers to reach the ocean, while Tech in Good is guaranteeing that this technology does not over oxygenate the rivers interfering negatively with the aquatic life. When both sides are addressed, this is Impact Tech. We were taught about the framework to measure this impact and reminded that we needed a common understanding of what is Tech for Good.

There is a forming consensus that it is any technology that addresses one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. I believe technology is what we make of it and I came from Brazil to ESSEC to learn how technology can be used to strengthen democracy (SDG 16). From here, I foresee a brighter future. Now, let's beat swords into plowshares.

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Understanding the business side of the global luxury economy

As we returned from La Toussaint, our first long weekend in France, I was confident the entire luxury cohort was looking forward to the return of one class in particular that week- Global Economy with Professor Franck Asenkat. Part of a trio of courses with Professor Asenkat, Global Economy accelerates our knowledge of the business side of the luxury economy worldwide.

A look at the supply and demand of the luxury market

Covering all of the seven sectors that luxury encompasses and their respective market trends, the class provides an in depth look into the Supply side of economics by analyzing business best practices and strategies from product segmentation to compelling product development, created to make consumers dream as well as build long lasting margins. In parallel, to better understand the Demand side, we are given a thorough analysis of the typology of clients and targets through different lenses such as age, nationalities and wealth.

Current examples from the industry

Going far beyond applying the theories of economics in the luxury world, we discuss concrete cases from a panorama of companies across the sectors and how the theories have been applied. What sets this class apart from other courses is that Professor Asenkat shares hard data and trends from his discussions with luxury companies and industry experts. Hard data of the luxury economy is difficult to obtain since most companies are either large conglomerates that report only consolidated figures or privately held and do not publish numbers. Therefore, the behind-the-scenes look into company figures, operations and strategies has helped us analyze the ROI structure behind luxury companies as well as their exposure to risks and opportunities.

Though some of our cohort come from a luxury background, a majority of us are career switchers. Regardless, we all agree the class has strengthened our understanding of the business behind luxury as well as provided a context of how the industry has developed since the family owned businesses of the 80s to the global conglomerates of today. Having this context has prepared us well for our company visits and networking events, where we often establish our credibility through our knowledge of the Personal Luxury Goods Industry.

We are only three sessions into the 1st part, but we are already looking forward to the 2nd and 3rd parts of the trilogy- Brand Strategy and Brand Creation! If this course is any indication, the next few months will be just as accelerated to ensure we are well equipped to apply our learnings to our capstones projects come Spring, when we will tackle strategic challenges for partnered companies in the luxury industry.

Returning to Maison Collet

One of the greatest advantages of studying at ESSEC is being in France, the cradle of luxury, famous for producing some of the world’s most renowned wines and spirits such as Moët & Chandon and Dom Pérignon. Like the previous cohort, this year we were blessed with a visit to Maison Collet and COGEVI (Coopérative Générale des Vignerons) in Oger, north-eastern France, for another inspiring Savoir-Faire visit.

We were greeted by Sébastien Walasiak, Chef de Cave, who gave us a brief introduction of Maison Collet and its family of champagnes, Champagne Collet being its hero product now sold only to high-end restaurants and hotels. We were then given an in-depth tour around their production facilities where we learned about every stage of champagne-making, which alumna Emilia Wilson brilliantly explained in this blog post.

NOTE: The champagne-blending facility consists of 300 stainless steel vats and 100 wood barrels, with the largest vat having a 300,000 litre capacity, able to produce approximately 400,000 bottles!

We then spent the afternoon learning about the history of COGEVI, France’s oldest cooperative founded in 1921 by winegrowers determined to protect the heritage, independence, and expertise of the area. Today the co-op hosts approximately 900 members and the breath-taking hillsides, houses and wine cellars of this region are included in the UNESCO Heritage list for their cultural and historical significance.

Personally, the most valuable part of this visit was meeting and learning from Olivier Charriaud, Managing Director of Champagne Collet and ESSEC alumnus, who after his successful feat at refreshing Rémy Cointreau’s brand image did the very same for Champagne Collet. Mr. Charriaud spoke of his trials and tribulations in reviving and re-positioning the dying brand by establishing his three-pillars strategy: (1) credibility, (2) visibility, and (3) profitability. Credibility consisted of first and foremost having a product of exceptional quality, providing excellent service, and communicating and ensuring all stakeholders believed in the story of the brand - the dream.

Visibility was achieved through COGEVI and a creative strategy of champagne-food pairing that significantly helped elevate Champagne Collet’s image and create brand awareness (please see previous blog post for more details). Last but not least, profitability meant positioning the brand at a luxury level and targeting niche markets. This last strategy was arguably the most challenging to implement; only by staying focused and remaining patient could one reap its rewards.

We left Maison Collet utterly inspired and revitalised for the journey ahead, as many of us plan to become luxury brand managers in the future. Similar to all other savoir-faire visits, we’ve learned that when it comes to luxury, every detail counts!

An opportunity to dive into Luxury Beauty | Visit to L’Oréal Luxe

By Chitra Birole, ESSEC Global MBA, Luxury Brand Management major 2019-2020

Participants from the Luxury Brand Management major of the Global MBA recently had an exceptional opportunity to attend a presentation at the L’Oréal Luxe office situated at the bustling route of Quai Charles Pasqua. As soon as we arrived in the heart of the L’Oréal Headquarters, we were warmly welcomed by members of the Human Resources team. Once we had settled down in their exquisite auditorium space, the team asked us to square in with our queries, questions and comments. This small gesture of hers created a very collective and comfortable atmosphere for all participants.

The presentation revolved around mainly five aspects viz., The Luxury Market of Beauty, understanding the L’Oréal Group, the multi-faceted L’Oréal Luxe, current and upcoming trends, and sustainability in the beauty industry. A substantial part of the presentation allowed us to deep dive into L’Oréal’s contribution to the Cosmetics and Fragrances industry worldwide.

It was a sheer delight to see the career trajectories of current L’Oréal executives who have been working with L’Oréal for more than a decade. It surely helped all of us to understand that L’Oréal is more than an organization – A family, A community!

After the presentation, we joined members of the L’Oréal Luxe HR team for a glass of champagne and some delicacies. This allowed every participant to network and converse with members of the L’Oréal team.

This year, we celebrate our 25th anniversary of the specialization in luxury brand management in the ESSEC MBA, with L’Oréal Luxe being one of the founding members of ESSEC’s MBA in Luxury Brand Management. This close partnership between the school and L’Oréal continues to give our participants the incredible opportunity to gain insights into one of the world’s leading Cosmetics and Fragrances groups.

We look forward to networking with such eminent leaders of the Luxury Industry, and a sincere thanks to L’Oréal Talent Acquisition team. 

Visit to Holding Textile Hermès | Luxury Brand Management major

By Catherine Kim, Global MBA Luxury Brand Management major 2019-2020

The visit to the Holding Textile Hermès was perhaps the Savoir-Faire Conference that our entire Luxury Brand Management cohort has been waiting for. For the first time in the history of the program, we had the opportunity to witness how the famous Hermès scarves (also known as Hermès Carrés) are produced.

Watch the highlight video from the visit at the end of the article!

We began our day bright and early for our train to Lyon, where the Holding Textile Hermès is located. The visit started with an introduction to the history of Hermès. Hermès is a luxury brand known not only for its leather goods such as its Birkin bags but also its iconic silk scarves, which were to be the main focus of this visit. The visit was a great opportunity for us to rediscover the brand, learning about its brand identity and values and understanding how its range of product offerings has evolved over the different generations.



Our key takeaway from the session was certainly that Hermès is a brand that respects time and quality. We were awe-inspired to hear about the time required for a product to be completed from the production of the raw materials needed till the product is ready for sale in a boutique. For example, a carré scarf takes 2 years to produce - from cultivating silkworms for the production of silk which takes approximately 1 year to 6 months for working on the design and 6 months for engraving, it is a time-intensive process. Understanding the various steps allowed us to understand the true value of an Hermès scarf and why they are such prized possessions for many.

Learning about the family tree of Hermès helped us understand the brand on another dimension, seeing how the passions of each CEO influenced the product offerings of the company. Through the visit, I realized how this family business has enabled the one and only luxury world of Hermès.

The company also respects the community built around the business in the local region. It keeps a keen eye on every process by keeping the business size compact, working closely with the ateliers for every detail and step of the creation and production process. We also saw how the company recognizes and appreciates the contributions of each person involved in the production process, for instance regarding their suppliers as partners.

A question may come to mind - how is the company maintaining a balance between its traditional craftsmanship and savoir-faire, along with integrating technology which could be useful for the production process? Hermès has continued to maintain the human touch in the production process, using technology primarily as a tool to help the craftsmen refine their work.

The company uses the screen printing method, also known as “méthode lyonnaise”, a printing technique where a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image or design. (Source: Wikipedia). At Hermès, this can mean up to 46 screens for 1 single scarf which contains 46 colors identified by the engraving artist.

The process begins with the engraving artist painstakingly identifying and tracing one layer of each color they have identified. Screens are then created based on the traced areas of the design, with 1 screen for each color. A different team then prepares the ink based on the color recipes. The silk will be set on a 150-meter-long table where machines will color the engraved parts in layer after layer. After coloring, the silk is aired to let the colors dry and then to be steamed for the colors to be firmly stick to the silk. These production procedures were all done with the help of cutting-edge machines which Hermès have developed specifically for its needs.

However, as Hermès is a brand built on the foundations of craftsmanship, the human touch continues to make a difference in the production process. From folding the colored silks from the machines while ensuring there are no creases, to finishing the scarf with a rolled seam using the hand-rolled hemming technique, and last but not least the intricate quality checks, the craftsmen spared no expense in ensuring the quality of the Hermès Carrés being produced at the Holding Textile Hermès. Coming from the Luxury Brand Management major, getting to see these masters working was an amazing experience, allowing us to understand and further appreciate the savoir-faire that goes into the creation of a luxury good.

Our lesson learned from the trip was that no luxury good is made within a day. Respect for the savoir-faire, the time it takes, the people and community contributing to the process, and most of all, quality over everything, is integral for ensuring that luxury companies continue to produce products of the finest quality.

What do we learn in our Strategy course?

By Jennifer Thomas, Global MBA Luxury Brand Management major, 2019-2020
Strategy without process is little more than a wish list – Robert Filek
As future managers learning how to identify critical issues in a situation, acknowledging the challenges, making best use of your organization’s resources and implementing a focused and concentrated course of action are some of the key expectations that any organization will have from us after we join them. Often, we tend to overlap what we want to achieve (goals) with what we need to do (strategy). But like Professor Maciej warns us, goals are NOT strategy. So, how and where do we learn these nuances?

Cracking Consulting Interviews | ESSEC Global MBA Strategy & Management major

By Visakh Ram, ESSEC Global MBA Strategy & Management major, 2019-2020

With many of us looking to switch careers into Consulting, the ESSEC Global MBA team has organized several workshops and activities to help us understand the industry on a deeper level. The most recent session was one on preparing for consulting interviews, led by expert facilitators who work in the consulting industry. 

There were 3 things on the agenda for the first of a series of intensive training sessions:
  • Quick Math
  • Case Interview Methodology
  • Fit Interviews
Quick Math - Which matters more; the answer or the process?

We started with the quick math session. The facilitator went ahead and asked us a few questions, but he didn’t want the right answers. He was focused on breaking the myth that final answers matter more than the process to arrive at the solution. He explained to us that consultants are more concerned about hiring structured and result-oriented people rather than selecting candidates who are smart on paper and give final answers with no clear thought process. The process increases consistency in the quality of answers and helps when reasoning with the client.

Case Interviews - The importance of clarifying the problem

The quick math session set the base for the next session – Case interviews. This time, the questions started becoming slightly vague: For example, estimate the size of the second-hand phone market in France (A market sizing question). We immediately started creating processes or using frameworks to arrive at a solution but the facilitator interrupted – “Do you really understand the question? What does the second-hand phone market refer to – is it servicing or sales or insurance? What is it?” We didn’t have an answer. This enlightened us on the importance of clarifying questions. Our clients might come up with vague problems. The first and foremost step is to understand the context of the problem. For that, we need to ask the right questions and understand the topic as much as possible.

Fit Interviews

In many consulting firms, the fit interview comes early on in the interview process. How important is this? For the facilitator, this is one of the key elements of the interview. Every company has its own culture and looks for candidates who share the same values. It is important for us to be truthful. A seasoned interviewer can judge whether the candidate is faking or not in the first few minutes. We discussed in detail questions like “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” and “Why do you want to do consulting?”. It was very interesting to see how the class perceived the answers to these questions.

The next series of intensive sessions are scheduled in a few weeks. We are all excited to see what we are going to explore and learn.

Get in touch with Visakh to find out more about the #ESSECGMBAExperience.