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- 2 Aug 2010

Matching a DNA profile to Gucci Group



Karen Lombardo, EVP of Global Human Resources, reveals why group culture makes HR a delicate balancing act.

Directing HR from within a luxury conglomerate like Gucci Group is driven by strategy rather than by just implementing policies, says Karen Lombardo, who is charged with setting the leadership culture of the top 200 executives.

“Our people are the heart of our business, but we don’t manage them as an HR function. We manage them as a family of 11,371 individuals who are connected by a common vision and goal — growing our brands.”
“Understanding their competencies and their potential so that they are placed in positions that best match the needs of a brand, ensures that the integrity of the brand DNA is always maintained, which for us is the most important thing.”

Populating a stable of brands as diverse as Bottega Veneta is to Balenciaga or Boucheron is to Alexander McQueen, requires a much more flexible alignment of HR strategy than at other large luxury firms.
“That’s why we don’t have one central, global HR strategy,” Lombardo explains. “Beyond the highest levels of group leadership — brand CEOs, creative directors and so on — our HR strategies are defined and executed by each brand according to its unique business strategies and geographic scope.”

Lombardo believes that this is one HR advantage luxury conglomerates have over other firms. The group portfolio enables employees to be stretched to their highest potential by exposing them to various aspects of the business through short-term experiences across regions, functions and brands.

Despite the loose organisation of the group and the overwhelming attraction of candidates to individual brands, rather than the group’s ‘employer brand’, Lombardo says that there is growing recognition among recruits. “Graduates at a fashion school in the UK were surveyed recently and they identified Gucci Group as the place they ‘Most Want to Work.’ So demand for positions is generally very high overall.”

“When asked, people name the brand first,” she concedes, “but there is also a sense that you are part of the group, particularly in the case of the smaller brands. I think that’s where the group culture becomes significantly more important, because there are people who want to work their way up to positions with more responsibility, and some of the smaller brands just cannot accommodate that."

Like many in the luxury industry who are fortunate that the brand’s products and image serve as a veritable recruitment magnet, Lombardo says that she never deliberately set out to create an employer brand.
“I’ve been at Gucci for 26 years now and in that time I have looked at who was attracted to this company and why we are so successful. I chose words that described who we are. We are a group of ‘entrepreneurs’ but we are also a group of people who like to have a ‘good time’. We love what we do and we feel a huge ‘passion’ for what we do. In doing it that way it reinforced who we already are.”

“We then built programs that allowed us to become better at what we are. So I never went back and said, ‘Who do we want to be?’ Instead I looked at us and said, ’We’re really good at what we do,’ so, ‘Who are we already?’ We walk that fine line between knowing that each brand has its own DNA and its own integrity, but that there is a common thread within this group in terms of the people you hire.”

While many luxury firms struggle to recruit talented merchants, Lombardo says that the most challenging positions to fill at Gucci Group are those linked to the brands’ creative directors, their creative teams and roles in merchandising, marketing and PR. And although she believes that headhunters and referrals are still the most effective tools for executive recruitment, Lombardo would like to explore more talent outside the luxury network they often use, in order to tap into people in industries like FMCG.