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An Interview with Leslie Serrero
Leslie (New York, Sydney, Paris, 2003-09) is vice president, operational marketing at Christian Dior Couture. Visit the company’s corporate headquarters—in the center of Paris, above the original Dior store, opened in 1946—and you might be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped onto the set of a fashion commercial.
“It is critical for a luxury brand to ensure everyone lives, breathes and feels the brand. Everybody at the company represents Dior, whether with our partners, our clients, reporters or photographers, and as such we want to ensure we express the unique identity of our brand in the way we behave, the way we dress, and in the way we portray ourselves. I have to admit it is one of the perks of the job that I get to wear Dior at work,” she said.
Leslie’s job is focused across five main global functions, with the bulk of her work centered on the firm’s unique retail marketing and client development activities. “Unlike the mass-market space, where you might have a broad plan for each customer segment, we treat our luxury customers, as much as possible, on an individual basis. That means getting to know our clients—knowing what they like and knowing what they buy,” she explained.
This part of the job also demands that she help develop and grow the business on a country-by-country basis—everything, she says, from boutique openings to craft exhibitions, and from in-store "trunk" shows (mini fashion events) to full-scale fashion shows. For instance, she was in Milan in October 2012 for "Lady Dior As Seen By," an exhibition to celebrate the iconic line of Lady Dior bags as revisited by various artists. In July of this year, she was in Russia’s Red Square (Dior was the first brand to stage a fashion show at that location) for a restaging of an earlier Paris winter ready-to-wear show.
Leslie also directs the digital team responsible for the company’s web site, including its ecommerce component, its online magazine (diormag.com), in-store digital connectivity, and all social media activity across the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Beyond all this, she directs the company’s international media planning and buying teams.
Finally, she oversees the team responsible for Dior’s Paris-based call center. “No matter where you call Dior from in the world, you will be connected directly to somebody in Paris," she said. "We want to ensure that the Dior experience is perfect every step of the way, including all phone calls.”
While this list of responsibilities seems perfectly suited to the skills of a consultant, Leslie says that a strong connection with creativity is also key to thriving in the fashion and luxury retail sector. “I feel this has a lot to do with the creative culture of the industry," she noted. "As a luxury goods company, and particularly as a fashion company, creativity drives everything we do, it is fundamental to the success of the Dior brand. My position requires a keen appreciation for the value of creativity.”
It’s an appreciation honed, she says, by direct experience. For instance, she attends most of the company’s big fashion shows—something she very much enjoys. “There’s always a high level of anticipation and excitement at these shows; it’s always exciting to see our creative director’s latest collection," she said. "As a Dior employee it’s even more exciting because there’s a newness that we bring to the market and we’re always striving to surprise and delight our clients.”
The big challenge, she says, is that she has to straddle two worlds: as somebody who enjoys fashion, she works to ensure that the brand continues to be new, creative and surprising, while the BCGer in her strives to bring high levels of structure and organization across all of her teams.
“Coming to fashion and luxury as I did from the strategic, rational world of BCG, I learned early that you don’t interact with a creative team in the same way that you interact with consultants, or even in the way a consultant might interact with client CEOs and executives," Leslie said. "I’ve had to adapt to find the most effective way to communicate with my teams. If I fail to appreciate that they see things differently from me, then I cannot be effective in my job and have an important enough impact.”
It is, of course, a two-way street. “Our creative teams must understand that I bring something to them and that together we make the brand stronger. It all comes down to effective communication,” she said.
The confidence to manage this type of communication, she says, was developed during her time at BCG. “BCG is where I learned that anything is possible—I remember many times being assigned a new case where my initial reaction was that I wouldn’t be able to see it through to a solution," Leslie said. "But the longer you work at BCG, the more you come to realize that nothing is impossible—it was always challenging, but there was always a way to make things happen. BCG nurtured in me an ability to deliver and drive impact.”
Other skills nurtured at BCG and well-utilized by her at Dior are the ability to prioritize and the ability to ask the right questions. “I was greatly surprised after I left consulting to discover that few people know how to prioritize effectively," she said. "It is not uncommon to see people working very hard, but on tasks or projects that are not relevant and won’t ‘move the needle’. I have also seen people get bogged down by failing to ask the best questions and failing to anticipate what they most need to learn.”
Her remark here left us slightly hesitant about posing one final question—should we ask Leslie, we wondered, if she has any favorite Dior products.
“A better question would be to ask if there’s anything I don’t like,” she said, laughing. “I love everything—the clothing, the bags, the jewelry. In fact, this is another big challenge in this job because I could easily find myself buying everything. Dior brings a sense of femininity that no other luxury brand brings to the market. As a professional woman, I feel so much better when I’m wearing Dior. The collection is feminine, modern, practical, and beautifully made.”