As president and CEO of the Gucci Group, Domenico De Sole LL.M. ‘ 72 has taken the well-known fashion house from the brink of collapse to its current position as an $8 billion industry titan. In recent years, the Gucci Group has acquired several other brands, including Yves Saint Laurent and Boucheron. A longtime supporter of HLS, De Sole is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board.
How did you approach turning Gucci around and giving the brand back its luster?
Most important, we had a very clear strategy of what we felt was necessary to relaunch the brand. In every company you have to select your priorities. One was the fashion strength of the company. Second, there was a great tradition of quality–we strengthened that very aggressively, which really helped us. And third, we really looked at the pricing of the merchandise, to offer pretty good value to our consumers. What really makes the difference are three things: execution, execution, execution. And we executed very well.
Before joining Gucci, you were a practicing lawyer with no background in fashion. How did you make that transition?
I think Harvard Law School lawyers can do anything. I really believe that. As a lawyer, you learn to think about the unthinkable and to protect your clients. As a businessperson, you need to take risks. The real issue is: Can you make that transformation? Whether it is fashion or computers or toothpaste, I think it becomes just an issue of common sense and having a good business mind.
How did you learn to become a risk taker?
In part I think you have to be decisive, and I don’t think it is something that you learn. I think it’s something you have to have in yourself. The worst thing that can happen to a business is not taking risks.
How has your HLS training helped you in your career?
You learn to look at things in a very analytical way, and you try not to be emotional about it. That is very, very important. Obviously, there are certain things that come from working in the same industry for a long time, in terms of understanding creativity and fashion and all that. But the ability to analyze facts and understand what works and doesn’t work, without emotion, is amazingly important. Once you learn that, you never forget it for the rest of your life–it is excellent training.
You’ve been known to put in 12-hour days without eating. Don’t people from Italy like a good lunch?
I never go out to lunch. I need to have a competitive advantage by using lunchtime [to work]. Actually, if there’s one thing that I’m proud of, it is that I brought a very hard work culture to Gucci. The people here work like maniacs.
What do you think of lawyers’ sense of fashion?
I’ve spent a lot of time with lawyers, and I think in general it’s not very good. Lawyers tend to be very conservative, because they’re basically trying to play it safe. When you [become a lawyer], everybody gets a blue suit, a white shirt, and a red tie.
If HLS alumni want to improve their style, what advice would you give them?
Very easy. Go to a Gucci store or to an Yves Saint Laurent store. Either one would do it.