Remaining Relevant in Luxury Fashion

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Interview with Anna Dimov, VP Merchandising @ Emporio Armani, USA

In this interview with Anna Dimov, a senior executive with an impressive track record in luxury fashion, we will continue the Creactive Leadership Series where we discuss the state of leadership under continuously transforming market conditions.

In our recent conversation, Anna Dimov, Vice President of Merchandising at Emporio Armani, emphasized the importance of team leadership, customer-focused business development, and a global perspective to remain relevant in the highly dynamic high-end luxury goods industry. Anna has an impressive track record of identifying and capitalizing on exclusive markets, leading product merchandising strategies, and driving operational sales for iconic brands like Giorgio Armani, Arc'teryx, Veilance, Loro Piana and Burberry. She holds a Bachelor's in International Business from Schiller International University and a Master of Business Administration from Hult International Business School. 

Henrik Totterman (HT): Good morning Anna, it's great to have you here. I have several questions about creactive leadership, which is a topic that I have a great passion for. My first question to you is: How would you define your leadership style? 

Anna Dimov (AD): Good morning, Henrik, thank you for having me. It's good to be here with you. You know, one of the things that is quite interesting is that I've reached this point in my career because I've worked in all the different positions to get here. I've worked my way up. And so right now with my leadership style, I like to have a very inclusive and communicative environment for my team so that they can come to the table with any new and fresh ideas. I also encourage learning and help them foster new ideas among each other. And so I think my leadership style is very open and very understanding and based on, you know, everyone having a seat at the table to be able to discuss and talk openly about their ideas. 

HT: My next question is: Why are seeing an increasing need for creactive leadership?

AD: I think that creactive leadership style is really important these days. A company cannot be stagnant, a business cannot be stagnant and we as individual leaders, as entrepreneurs within organizations need to constantly evolve. I think having a framework and a way to evolve as an organization is helpful as it guides us into the future on where we want to take the business in the next phase.

HT: I’m going to move over next to discuss innovation and strategy. In a largely disrupted world, how to maintain a positive outlook, direction and how to keep a winning concept current?  

 AD: That's a very good question. These days, things are moving so fast, things are changing at a very quick speed. I would say one of the things that I learned throughout my career is not to react too quickly. You want to react. You need to be ahead of the curve and understand what's happening in the marketplace, but you also need to have a basis and something that keeps you constant, something that keeps you going towards a long term strategy. I think one of the things that happens these days is that everyone is sort of jumping and reacting very, very quickly to things happening without having a longer term strategy of where they want to go. So having a vision for the future is important in keeping innovative and maintaining the ability to change. 

HT: Any advice on data collection and analysis, especially for companies just waking up to the quest of generating intelligence? 

AD: Well we say in our business ‘analysis paralysis’. So there's a balance between maintaining and getting all the data and getting the information, learning how to read it and also sharing the information with experienced managers and experienced people to read between the lines and take it with a grain of salt. Right?  Because the data is not going to tell you everything, you need to have both qualitative plus quantitative information to make an informed decision. There is an important piece to that human touch and that human element of understanding the why; what motivates people to make decisions. And so having the balance between collecting the right data and understanding when to marry that with qualitative information is key. 

HT: Yeah. Fully agree. With creactive leadership and overall performance in mind, what Key Performance Indicators do you see as relevant? In other words, what are the things that you would like to measure to see that leadership is efficient and performing up to par? 

AD: For one thing, obviously there are business results, which is the standard measure of success. But I think nowadays and we see it with everything going on in the marketplace, the standard measure of success goes above and beyond the numbers. We're talking about life; how happy are our customers, how happy are our employees, how motivated are our teams to stay and maintain doing the job. So I think we need to measure this in many different ways again both qualitatively as well as quantitatively. 

HT: Excellent. I'd like to move over to discuss compliance and intrapreneurship. The first question: Can you provide some examples of employee engagement in corporate innovation activities and these impact the overall well-being and retention of your team?

 AD: I think people are happy when they're involved, when they're part of the process when they are coming to the table. Sharing their ideas and knowing they have a voice and that their ideas are taken seriously and that managers are actually taking action on their ideas. So it's not just upper management telling employees what needs to be done next, but it's really having upper management take notice to some new ideas that might be bubbling up from staff that might not have as much experience in terms of business, but certainly are fresh with ideas to share, going up and down the channel. 

HT: That's interesting. In what kind of a context do you collect that information? Is it in team meetings or do you have some systematic means of collecting information from the team? 

AD: Certainly, an open forum is important to be able to collect the information. Some organizations I'm reading about now are even sending out surveys to their employees and asking them to fill out surveys to answer some questions. There are many different ways that this information can be shared, and I think it depends on the size of the organization, and maybe the culture of the organization on how it's been brought to the table and who is being brought to the table. Are captured insights going to middle management or is it making it’s way to upper management as well? And again, I think that all comes back down to having an open forum and open type of communication where people can feel trust to be able to share that level of information. 

HT: Thank you. In your industry, how are companies safekeeping their intellectual properties and keeping their knowledge base current? 

AD: Oh, that's a good question, because I work in the fashion industry and our intellectual property is as good as our last runway show, and we have a lot of great ideas that vanish quickly. I think the greatest protection to safe-keep your intellectual property is to have a new idea directly behind it. So once your idea is out into the world, it's no longer in your pocket, right? So having a new idea right immediately behind it and constantly being innovative and having that ability to evolve very, very quickly is the best protection against someone stealing any intellectual property. 

HT: Let's move over to talk about cooperation and impact. My first question is, how are your employer engaging with the surrounding society and specific industry? 

AD: Every industry right now and every company needs to pay attention to social entrepreneurship and corporate impact. We all have our place to play in the world. It's not just about profits, but it's also about social profit. Right? And you know, in the fashion industry, there's been a lot of companies out there rethinking the sustainable fashion business model, really thinking about the types of products that are being used. The full supply chain understanding of where products are being produced and being able to follow that through. So, you know, I think it is like turning a big ship. It's not something that's going to change overnight. And I think the fashion industry can share this with a lot of other industries out there. But it is something that certainly the fashion industry is aware of and is very diligently trying to evolve and trying to see how they can play their part in a new future. 

HT: How are you interacting with different customer segments and any changes that you see in recent years? 

AD: I mean, there's been a big shift in the consumer segment and certainly by having more online players out there, customers are demanding a certain type of speed and customer service and a full omnichannel environment. Customers are coming from around the world, so being very nimble to cater to customers who are no longer just in your backyard but really coming from all part sof the globe. That comes with the realization that we need to all be global players and all be good omnichannel digital players as well. We are no longer just sitting in a store trying to sell something, but we are only as good as all the tools around us to be able to perform in this market. 

HT: This leads naturally to the next question, which is: How do you assess risks and opportunities when it comes to the key partners and suppliers in this very dynamic market environment?

 AD: In the market right now, we need to have full transparency with all of the players, the supply chain and all of the people that we're speaking with. It's not as easy as we would like. There's no easy way to have full transparency with all the suppliers around the world and all of the different partnerships that we have around the world. But you know, that takes time withagain, some trust. And being in a company that has been around for so long is very interesting because then you can develop trust with the different partners that you decide to play with. I think newer companies might have the ability to decide what kind of relationship they want, but they don't have the trust that is built to ensure that that is happening. 

HT: Next, I would like to talk a little bit about operational aspects, delivery and transformation is the theme. My first question is: How do you prepare and make decisions? Describe a typical process from strategy to implementation in your team? 

AD: Well, you know, we need to stay focused on what the decision making is for, and in our case, our client comes first. So at the end of the day, every decision that is made, every process and every operational task that is happening runs through that singular idea that the client comes first. What is going to benefit the final client and their satisfaction level? And what can we do at every single stage gate to ensure that they are walking away a happy customer- And I think maintaining that focus and remembering that at every point of the process it is important to realize that we are here for a bigger purpose and that is that final client. And it's not just about the individual task at hand. 

HT: Wow. Very impressive. Thank you. My next question is: How is your organization engaging in explorative activities to verify assumptions? So how do you test pilot before you go in full scale? 

AD: We might take a certain market or a certain client group or do something internally and test it for one season and then try to retest it again for consecutive seasons to see if it works. You need to be able to take a little bit of risk and be OK if something fails. Luckily, in an industry like mine, if you have a baseline of a business going, then you can certainly take risks in other areas to be able to figure out if that's the next segment or the next evolution that needs to be done. 

HT: Then my last question in this section is: How are you assessing implementation and driving improvements? 

AD: Well, certainly you have to start with the KPIs you need for every new project, every new innovative venture that we go after, in any company, has to go after a good assessment of what is your return on investment, what is the KPI that you're trying to measure? It's not always going to be money. You know, there could be a KPI that just gives data feedback or again, qualitative information that we are looking for. So having a clear sense of what are you trying to get out of the effort that you're putting in. And then understanding if that KPI aligns with the bigger strategy picture to be able to move forward and integrate it into the bigger context. 

HT: My final question is a bonus question. Without thinking too long, what is the first thing that comes to mind from the following words? My first word is influence?

 AD: People.  

HT: What about agility? 

 AD: Process 

HT: What about resilience? 

AD: Faith

HT: What about efficiency

 AD: Hardworking 

HT: Excellent. Anna, it’s been an absolute pleasure to interview you for my podcast and blog. Thank you so much for being here with me this morning. 

AD: Thank you, Henrik, it's always a pleasure being with you.

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