Philip Corne and Fiona Myer share insights on leadership and brand loyalty

The gurus of luxury, on brand leadership. Fiona Myer, Founder and Creative Director of White Story, and Philip Corne, Executive Chairman of L Catterton in conversation.

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This content was produced in commercial partnership with NAB and the Financial Review, and owned by the Financial Review.  

How do you establish a go-to brand in an ultra competitive retail market? Fiona Myer, founder and creative director of local start-up White Story, says a key point of difference for her brand is service. “When you’re selling luxury merchandise, people do expect service,” she says. “Generally, you get the service in boutiques. It’s harder when somebody’s working on a big floor, to find that service – in a department store or in a shopping mall.”

Myer says it’s impossible to launch a luxury brand online. Luxury is about craftsmanship and you need to touch and see good craftsmanship up close. “You need to have developed a brand before you go online. How can anyone possibly find you? I know there are exceptions to the rule – but they’re not luxury brands.”

Having witnessed the changes in the retail sector when the global financial crisis hit local shores, executive chairman of L Catterton, Philip Corne, says brand loyalty is much harder to come by than it once was.

“The GFC focused the consumer spend quite a lot. At the budget end of the market, consumers would be very careful with how they’d spend their money on the basics, they didn’t shop too much in the middle … and at the top end of the market, and the luxury goods sector being the peak of that, when they wanted to buy something special and important to them, they would go straight to the top.

“You’ve got to be really present and relevant with your client to ensure you can generate that loyalty over time. Because there are so many choices.”

As part of The Australian Financial Review and NAB Private miniseries on leadership, Corne and Myer sat down at the CUB Private Business Club in Sydney to discuss business governance in the past and future. Both have extensive careers in the Australian retail sector. Corne, who spent 28 years at the helm of Louis Vuitton Australia, led it to a position in the global top 15 (the locations where luxury retail is the most successful) and through curve balls such as the rise of online shopping and social media, economic crises and tourism changes.

Myer has a background in forecasting, working for Georges department store and Myer (her name comes from her marriage to Sidney Myer), and launched White Story last November. She admits launching a small stand-alone company at a time when consumers are particularly discerning, certainly has its challenges.

“There has been a big shift in the outlook to luxury brands,” she says. “They were mainly bought in department stores. Luxury brands now have standalone stores, prolific advertising; they’re in billboards, glossies, and an online presence which has obviously taken over the awareness and purchasing power.

“Retailers once told you what hours the shops were open and what you could buy. These days, I think the customer’s telling us what hours they’re prepared to shop and what they want to buy.”

Corne says good leadership is being realistic about goals. “And at the end of the day, having the smarts to realise it’s not a matter of life and death.” His perspective was honed while working for Louis Vuitton in New York when September 11 happened. “There’s nothing in the human resources manual that equips you for something like that happening,” he says. “I learnt a lot about people, I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt a lot about what’s important to people when something of that gravity happens and they react – and what you need to do to try and support them.

“At Louis Vuitton, when we think we’ve got a problem, I say, ‘where are we on the scale? Are we at a 1 or are we at a 10?’ You just get back down and focus on what you can control.”

Philip Corne’s leadership takeaways:

  • “Both personally and professionally I could have taken more chances. Naturally I will be conservative; I think I could have pushed things a little harder and taken different opportunities.
  • “Who knows what the future holds but at the end of the day for me, what’s important is trust. If you can’t trust the people you are working with and if you don’t believe in them and want to follow them, then I can’t see the point. I think the world has always been led by inspiring people. We don’t always have enough of them around. My good fortune is having worked with people who I trust.”

Fiona Myer’s leadership takeaways:

  • “Team building, getting together the A team, is so important. You are the company you keep in life. A lot of us need to remember that.”
  • “We also mirror each other in life. If you’re sad, people will be sad around you. If you’re happy, people will be happy around you. Just be true to yourself.”

This first was originally published by the Financial Review on 14 September 2016.