Schools that Offer Courses in Luxury Brand Management.
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Schools that Offer Courses in Luxury Brand Management.
Monte Carlo or bust
MBA and postgraduate studies For those with an eye for the finer things in life, an MSc in luxury goods management is this year's must-have item, says Ian Wylie
Saturday January 21, 2006
Flat plates and sugar were the luxury goods of Elizabethan times. A hundred years later it was pepper. Today? The super-rich wouldn't be photographed dead without their Aston Martin, private jet, Bahamian holiday home and diamond-encrusted mobile phone.
It may seem like a parallel universe to most of us, but with the number of multimillionaires in the UK rising by 8% a year, demand for luxury goods has rarely been higher. Seven-figure City bonuses have returned and the "ultra-high net worth" set now has its own quarterly magazine. The first issue of Spear's Wealth Management Survey includes advice on Swiss banks, the benefits of pre-nuptial agreements and how to hire a private investigator.
Many business school graduates find employment with luxury goods companies, but now course leaders are waking up to the potential of programmes dedicated to the luxury business.
The principality of Monaco, playground of the rich and famous, is also home to the International University of Monaco (IUM), where an MBA programme offers four specialist electives that focus on the luxury sector. From the autumn, the school will also begin an MSc in the management of luxury goods and services.
The one-year programme will cover a wide range of areas, including managerial and marketing skills such as product development, legal issues such as patents and licensing, and core functions such as finance, production and human resources. As part of the programme, students will complete an internship in a luxury boutique to get a practical, hands-on feel for the industry.
According to Sandrine Ricard, the school's vice president and an alumnus of Aston Business School in Birmingham, the university of Monaco is able to draw on the expertise of locally-based cosmetic companies such as Lancaster; fashion outfits including Bettina; Société des Bains de Mer, the luxury hotel consortium; and luxury cruise company Silversea. Professors for the new course have been recruited from Chanel and L'Oréal.
While the Monaco MBA requires students to have gained least three years of working experience, the MSc course will accept students who have just completed their first degree, which doesn't have to be an economics or business degree. Ricard says Monaco is one of Europe's most international business schools - the 36 students currently on its MBA course come from 26 different countries.
There are 15 places on the new MSc, which will be taught in English and costs €12,000 (£8,250). Students can look forward to 300 days of sunshine each year, but with one of the highest GNPs per capita in the world and 30,000 residents squeezed onto a tiny two-square kilometre strip of land, isn't Monaco a prohibitively expensive place to be a student?
"Monaco is less expensive to live than London," reckons Ricard. "Flat prices here are around €1,500 a month, though most students choose to live in nearby towns and villages in France, where flats are just €500 a month."
Monaco is not the first business school to spot the potential in luxury goods courses. ESCP-EAP in Paris has been running an MBA specialising in luxury brand management since 1995, and its 30 students enjoy studentships at Beiersdorf, Estée Lauder, Hermès, L'Oréal and LVMH.
Other schools may cash in, too, as luxury goods firms seek postgraduates with up-to-date knowledge of the latest business ideas. Research by consulting firm Bain & Co, for example, suggests that the leading luxury firms are investing heavily in customer relationship management systems to uncover customer preferences and buying habits.
In the past, luxury brands had a pretty good idea of who their typical customers were: the wealthy. Now it's not so clear. In cosmetics, for example, there is now little correlation between a customer's wealth and the likelihood they will buy luxury products. Many luxury brands, such as Hermès, Cartier and Armani, are now offering "entry-level" goods. Others are taken with the trend towards "fast fashion", rotating their collections several times during a season.
For Ricard, the fast-changing nature of the luxury goods sector means specialist training is essential. "It's such a complex industry, and access to it has traditionally been restricted," she says.
However, at most schools, luxury isn't viewed as a separate field so much as simply one type of niche marketing. "I don't think a specialist course or elective is necessarily the answer for supply chain management in the luxury goods sector," says Richard Brunt, who did a part-time postgraduate diploma in management studies in 2000 at Nottingham Business School and is now responsible for the worldwide supply of Bulgari accessories from the company's global operations in Switzerland. "Essentially, my job is getting the right product in the right place at the right time. The overall business process is common within most sectors. It's a mix of the same theories and concepts."
However, Brunt believes marketing luxury brands requires a particular skill set. "People in marketing roles within this sector need to be programmed with the concept of high-end products, selling the dream of a brand history, selling the craftsmanship, quality and the 'need to have' factor of a fashion product," he says.
"Brands sell dreams, and that's the main difference between the luxury goods sector and other retail businesses. You may have a product which costs €50 to produce, but can retail at €700. The customer who buys the product is acutely aware of that fact, but the power of the brand is the overriding factor that makes that client part with their cash.
"I try not to think too much about the value and costs of products. All I need to work is a product code, a forecast, a lead-time, a cost, a supplier - and plenty of energy. I leave the beauty and prestige of a product up to my marketing and product development colleagues," says Brunt.
However, he has a warning for students attracted to the glitz and glamour of a career in luxury goods. "You should bear in mind that the sector is extremely sensitive to any political or social changes."
It is a cyclical sector and its fortunes ebb and flow with the wider economy. Take note: job security in this business is something of a luxury.
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