A Conversation with Rose Marie Bravo & Fabrizio Freda

Fashion Group International (http://www.fgi.org/) held  “The Tastemakers” Breakfast & Conversation yesterday morning. The sold out event featured a sit down breakfast at the iconic 21 Club, followed by a conversation with Rose Marie Bravo, CBE Retail Brand Consultant, and Fabrizio Freda, CEO Estee Lauder Companies. Following the delicious breakfast, FGI President Margaret Hayes introduced the dynamic pair (both are legends within business circles for sure), and recited their impressive resumes (not that we needed to be reminded of course).  Rose Marie Bravo is the former CEO and Vice Chairman of Burberry Group Plc. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Tiffany & Co., Estée Lauder Cos. and Williams-Sonoma, which she joined in 2011.

Bravo blazed a trail in the retail industry during the 1980s and 1990s. She held a number of positions at R.H. Macy & Co., culminating as Chairman and CEO of subsidiary I. Magnin from 1987 to 1992. Her success there helped her land the job as President of luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue with responsibility for merchandising, marketing and product development. Then in 1997 she became CEO of Burberry, where she oversaw a bold reform of the British classic brand, expanding the line of products and boosting sales and profits in the process.

Mr. Fabrizio Freda has been the Chief Executive Officer of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., since July 1, 2009 and its President since March 2008. Mr. Freda served as the Chief Operating Officer at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. from March 2008 to July 1, 2009. Mr. Freda served as the President of Global Snacks at Procter & Gamble Company from 2001 to February 2008.

While I have met Ms. Bravo in the past (and in fact, she was the subject of one of our Masters of Fashion Interviews, conducted by Grace Mirabella), I have never had the pleasure or meeting Mr. Freda, who showed himself to be wise, witty, and humble (and, THE perfect boss, I might add) during the informative and entertaining several hours.


These are the


Ms. Bravo (RMB): What were
the challenges when you first started?”
Fabrizio Freda (FF): “I didn’t expect to find the
strength that I did. In 2008 it looked like the world was collapsing. There’s
nothing like a big crisis to make you re-think business”.


RMB: “How
did you get everyone integrated and working together”?


“Learning to share knowledge was THE challenge. As well as creating a team of
people, creating a new strategy, and one common vision. We are collaborative; a
company of very distinctive brands”


 RMB: “How do
you keep the vision fresh?”


FF: “The
vision is THE single most important thing in any company. It’s all about how you
form a vision today. You have to know where you want to go and what to do to get
It’s all about the compass: the next 10 years. What the picture of
the future will look like 10 years from now. Reverse engineering is what we have
to do. It’s all about determining the future and then reverse. Reverse
engineering makes it happen”.


 Ms. Bravo
noted that they both share an Italian heritage, where family is key. She started
talking about the idea of family values and how important that element is in


FF: “Yes, my
Italian experience teaches you to lead, and it has helped in making things
happen. Italy is very challenging. You know the song “New York, New York” and
the line, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”? Well, I think,
“If you can make it in Napoli, you can make it anywhere” (this got a lot of
laughs and having traveled to Naples, where Mr. Freda was born, I understand
exactly what he means).

Ms. Bravo
spoke of the famed Lauder Family, and their “amazing values”.

FF: “Yes, I
value that the Lauder Family is a blue-chip family. They are passionate and have
an obsession with quality”.


(Lauder) always reminds us: “My name is on the door” (this got laughs as


“Family companies are
investing in the future and are much more for the long term. There’s an
obsession for the long term”.


 Then Ms.
Bravo, who is a board member of Estee Lauder, recalls her first encounter with
Mr. Freda at a board meeting that was held at Vassar College. They shared
memories and laughs about the cozy, coed dorm – like living

“Meeting the board members in shorts is a challenging moment” he joked. “Can you
imagine that the first time meeting my board members, it  was early in the
morning and I was wearing shorts?”

 He recalled
seeing Vassar’s motto which was emblazoned in front of the school, “Semper
Novis” which means, “always new” and related how that held a lot of symbolism
for his company. “It’s something that must always be kept in the minds of those
who work in a company. But the wisdom and challenge for the leader of a company,
is to have the wisdom to decide what to change and what to accept, and that is a
key point for management.”



Ms. Bravo
recalled that challenge when she first took over as CEO of Burberry, quickly
turning the iconic British company into a global fashion mega
Burberry, I was labeled a workaholic. How do you balance your life and encourage
balance in the workplace?”

FF: “The key secret?
Take care of your health, get good nutrition, and manage your


“At some
point, we have to take a break from work and take care of our selves”. “Take
your time, organize your day, and take your holidays. I separate work time from
family and holiday time”.


RB: “What
about the importance of (ethnic and gender) diversity”?


FF: “Diversity is the
strength. It’s important to create teams that collaborate and to leverage
strength. We work together and collaborate to create winning teams so we can
win. Building on strength is important”.


RMB: “How do you
manage creative talent, and how does that lead to innovation?”


FF:  “Creativity is
the sparkle of everything. Creativity is in everything and it is the key. We
need to put creativity in the center of everything we do. Inspiring
creativity is THE most important thing”.


You need to identify
and to know the biggest opportunities, and focus your attention on that. You
have to create something the consumer doesn’t know they want, but subsequently,
cannot live without.”


 RMB: “A good merchant
went with their guts in the old days. I didn’t have a vision for Burberry until
I got there. How important is branding and luxury?”


FF: “The
world of luxury and branding is key. Image building at the top is key. We are
selling experiences and entertainment, and not just a product”.


RMB: “What is a great


FF: “To be
a great leader is all about having a vision. Leonard Lauder once said, “If you
cannot see your future, you will never get here and you will never lead”.


“If you don’t see it, invent it.
That’s the definition of a good leader. And you have to inspire the others to
get there. The leaders today have to set the vision and serve the organization
and inspire leadership.”


RMB: “It’s
not lost on me that the new tagline at Estee Lauder is ‘Be an inspiration’


“What is the future of
beauty? The world has changed!”


FF: “Beauty is the
MOST exciting market of the future. Women are becoming wealthier and have more
money to spend. Their three important things are food, fashion, and


RMB: “What is the best
advice you ever got?”


FF: “The best advise I
ever got from William (Lauder): Don’t give me any solutions right away. Just
listen, understand, and then create.”


RMB: “My biggest
failure in business is that I couldn’t turn around I.Magnin, which I knew had so
much potential, no what matter what I did. I learned a lot from that


FF: “I always tell my
people, “You have the right to fail”. But I always say, “Fail fast and fail
cheap!” (this got a lot of laughs)


At the end, members of
the audience were invited to ask questions and s
omeone inquired: “What
are your goals for Estee Lauder?”

FF: “To keep it a high
growth company. We are and want to continue to be the fastest growing company
focused on prestige cosmetics”.

1 – “We want to bring
prestige super high quality products; 2 – offer aspirational brands, and 3 –
provide high tech services”.


When a man
observed that Proctor & Gamble (Mr. Freda’s former company) has not been
doing that well in the past few years , Mr. Freda quipped: “that’s because I’m not there
-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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