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#DF19: Technology blended with human touch is key for Gucci

A combination of both technology and people was crucial to the creative and financial turnaround of the Gucci business in recent years, explained the luxury fashion brand’s CEO and president, Marco Bizzarri.

“We believe blending technology and human touch and this personal one-to-one is going to be the differential factor for us,” said Bizzarri at the Dreamforce 2019 event in San Francisco this week.

“In fast fashion can you rely just on data, in our [luxury] business you need to rely on people – and blending the two together and using technology not just as a tool, but as a form of expression, I think will really make a difference for us. Otherwise, if we just use the technology it is going to be a commodity and we cannot be differentiated from anybody else – and for us differentiation is more important than anything else.

Fostering creativity

Speaking during a fireside chat with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Bizzarri described how creativity is in the centre of everything the business does.

He said humanity is not an option, with the company’s values lying in respect for people and the environment, as well as freedom of expression. “Especially in our industry, creativity is in the centre of everything. And if creativity is in the centre of everything, the best way to foster it is to create an ambience in the company that gives the possibility to [harness] creative talent and freedom... and create an ambience where if you make a mistake you are not killed.”

The Italian CEO took the top job at Gucci five years ago in a bid to turn around the dwindling business, and has since tripled the size of the company and led it to become one of the fastest growing high-fashion brands. Interestingly, Bizzarri said he did this not by listening to customers, but by putting his trust in the creative team – which was cemented by the appointment of Alessandro Michele as creative director who spearheaded the design change to “geek chic”, which led to much criticism in the early days.

“You can’t turn around a company the size of Gucci by listening to customers – customers in our industry tend to look in the rear mirror.”

Bizzarri said the fashion industry involves taking many risks, especially for companies like Gucci who try to disrupt trends.

“Our business is a strange business, I never saw a success through a business plan – you need to believe in ideas, when you believe in ideas there’s no cost, no financial plan, no figure you need to think about.”

“You can’t turn around a company the size of Gucci by listening to customers – customers in our industry tend to look in the rear mirror"Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri.

Bizzarri said he needed to trust his team, and he also pointed out that data can’t provide information on the next big trend. Where data can be used is in the very short term through crowdsourcing customer feedback on size or where to put a pocket, but in the long term, he has to rely on his creative staff to spot “weak signals” pointing to the next big fashion trend.

He explained how the only people praising the early collections were influential names in fashion such as Anna Wintour and Marc Jacobs. “They know exactly how to spot genius. The normal consumers rejected the aesthetic,” he explained.

Bizzarri said at this point in the turnaround internal communication with the company’s thousands of employees was more important than external communication. He travelled the world shaking hands with, and talking to, employees about the importance of the change in direction, which helped him keep talent within the company – to this day the executive team remains the same as when he joined.

The CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge

The morning of his talk at Dreamforce, Bizzarri launched a program called the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge to invite other brand bosses to sign up to become more sustainable businesses. He wrote an open letter detailing how companies should make changes today to reduce their harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

“Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil,” he explained on stage at Dreamforce. “It’s not even an option, it’s a matter of survival or not, we don’t need to think too much, we just need to do it.”

Bizzarri said the company is currently looking at a number of start-ups that could help reduce industry emissions, such as a more environmentally-friendly tanning process. But he said that is a longer-term solution and in the meantime “we need to buy time”.