Quality Is Remembered Long After Price Is Forgotten Essay Writing

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This highly charismatic Dutchman – think of former BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen with a fashion sense – is a corporate missionary with deep convictions about how business should operate.

Mr Polet, whose business also spans fashion brands Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Yves St Laurent, Balenciaga and Sergio Rossi, leather goods specialist Bottega Veneta and Boucheron watches and jewellery, once tried to get technicians to block radio waves from his company's meeting rooms so executives couldn't fiddle with their BlackBerry phones.

He delights in telling executives who present him with lengthy strategy papers to come back with two succinct paragraphs and places a long white peace pipe on the table whenever meetings get too feisty – a useful trick, given Gucci Group's history of in-fighting.

Mr Polet is also a technology freak who asked his staff to find out how Bill Gates and Apple chairman Steve Jobs configured the technology in their offices and to make sure he had exactly the same.

He admits to summoning technical support and demanding to have the same BlackBerry as Gucci Group Asia-Pacific CEO Mimi Tang after spotting her superior model.

"It was really upsetting for me," he says. "I need to be the first. I need to lead the way in these new developments. I can't wait for someone else to tell me they have it and I have to wake up. Two days later I had it. I said: 'Guys, don't ever do this to me again.'"

Gucci Group was in disarray when he arrived in 2004 after its fashion empire had been torn apart by the departures of chief executive Domenico de Sole and creative director Tom Ford. Nearly half the top 40 executives had left, five brands were loss-making and many observers thought Yves St Laurent was a lost cause.

"I said to my wife that for the first time, I would not be joining her and the family on holiday," recalls Mr Polet. "Instead, I spent six weeks visiting 180 stores and speaking to 2,500 staff around the world."

He was astounded by what he discovered. "I said that in three to four years time we have to be profitable; otherwise there's no purpose," he remembers.

"But quite a few people said to me: 'You really have no idea. It's quite obvious that you're not from the fashion industry. What we're about is investing in the brand.'"

In response, Mr Polet asked each brand to come up with a three-year plan – something they had never done before. "Three of them said: 'Our turnover is going to increase, our costs are also going to increase and our losses are going to widen over the next three years,'" he says.

"I said I must have forgotten this business model because nobody had ever taught it to me. They didn't get it. 'We're investing,' they said."

Mr Polet had not encountered this problem in his previous job as global head of ice-cream brands for Unilever and concedes that his switch to Gucci Group shocked the fashion world.

"I surprised everyone but myself," he laughs, "but my conclusion is that it is almost the same. I focus on three things: leading and coaching people, managing brands and creating an environment where creativity can flourish. It's only the third one that's different to what I did before."

Indeed, it was this creativity that was preventing profits but Mr Polet brokered a compromise, developing a framework that sees the CEO of each of Gucci Group's brand work closely with a brand creative director.

"I estimated that there were about 150-200 entrepreneurs in this business and also 150-200 creative people that I needed to connect to," he says.

"Entrepreneurs don't like it when you tell them what to do, but then you also have this group of creatives. If you don't guide them, the whole thing could end up in chaos."

He told his executives that they would have freedom to be both entrepreneurial and creative, as long as they operated under the framework's principles.

Four years later, all the brands are profitable, with Yves St Laurent and Sergio Rossi moving into the black last year, following Boucheron and Balenciaga, which is now the group's fastest-growing fashion brand.

Group profits have nearly tripled to €730m (£680m) from €264m in 2004 "Other companies try to manage creativity, but actually stifle it by managing it," says Mr Polet. "I'm never going to go back to a more bureaucratic environment, where it's differently organised with layers and committee."

The recession will clearly make profits growth more difficult. Gucci Group's 2009 budget was changed four times last year, he reveals, because the economy was changing so quickly.

A salary freeze for the group's 15,000 staff, including the chief executive, was announced in October. Then Mr Polet rang Gucci Group's parent, French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, and asked for his bonus potential for this year to be halved. "It came from the divisions, he says. "It's the right thing to do."

Gucci Group will still open 22 new stores this year, all in Asia-Pacific, its fastest-growing region, with 37pc growth in China last year. Currently, there are 550 stores, including 21 UK outlets.

Mr Polet has changed his routine as a result of the downturn. "I've started travelling more in the last few months than before because people need to see me," he says.

"They ask: 'Is he down? Does he look pessimistic? Or is he looking optimistic and smiling? Does he know where we're going?'

"When they see that I'm fine, they're fine too. I'm convinced that we're going to be fine. It's tough but we're doing the right things. We've got it pretty well under control now."

Mr Polet's father was an executive at chemicals group Akzo Nobel, including a stint in Malaysia, where Mr Polet was born. He attended prep school in London before going to boarding school in Holland and taking an MBA in Oregon, USA. Then he joined Unilever in 1978 and worked his way up the organisation.

He seems to have settled into the luxury goods bracket and certainly looks the part in his Gucci double-breasted navy suit, Bottega Veneta cufflinks, black Gucci slip-on shoes and Girard-Perregaux watch, though he does up his top button for our photo-shoot, recalling advice from his mother to either go tie-less or open-buttoned but never both.

Did he wear all this stuff before he got the Gucci job? "No, I didn't," he giggles. "I have a whole wardrobe of clothes from my other life that I sometimes wear."

He also allows himself to grow a beard and wander around in shorts when on holiday but in other areas his business discipline is mirrored in his personal life. He never breaks for lunch, eating only an apple when in the office, to balance out the meals he eats while travelling.

He also turns off his mobile phone and BlackBerry in the evening, at weekends and on holiday and competes with his two daughters on personal technology.

"I've always said to our girls: 'Every time you see something new, give it to me,' he says. "'New music, new books, things that your friends tell you; come on: feed us as parents. We need to be young.' I sometimes beat them to it and surprise them."

Actually, he's sending his daughters a new gizmo right now. "I'm sure they haven't got one," he squeals with delight. "I get a real kick out of it. I'm giving them something beautiful."

CV

Name: Robert Polet
Job: Chief executive, Gucci Group
Age: 53
Married to Caroline. Two daughters aged 23 and 21
Homes: Rented house in Notting Hill, 1,000-year-old house in Tuscany
Interests: Sailing - owns two boats; music - has 8,800 songs on his iPod.
Favourite book: Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
Drives: Company BMW, 1992 Volvo 960, 1968 Fiat 500
Personal motto: Always put yourself through the hardship of keeping things simple

Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten

We have all had the experience of buying something that seemed cheap at the time, only to find that after minimal use it broke down.

It may have cost little but it was worth nothing. The money spent was completely wasted.

My father used to say that a Mercedes Benz was the cheapest car in the world to run. I don’t know if that is still true, but the point he was making is still valid. A quality vehicle may cost more initially but far less is spent on repairs and its resale value remains high compared to a cheaper model.

The key is to identify true quality and to weigh up whether the premium paid will be offset in the long run by the savings in efficiency, functionality and durability.

The mistake is to accept the word of marketers that their particular product represents quality. It’s easy to claim the highest standards. Delivery is what counts.

Your most basic research, before committing to a purchase, should be to read every unbiased consumer report that you can get your hands on. The internet is a great resource for this. Seek out the websites of consumer protection agencies and user blogs. The effort is worthwhile and may save you plenty.

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