Three key qualities of a good mentor:
- LVMH’s vice president of planning Jose Chan says patience ranks among the invaluable traits of a professional mentor. That’s because early on in a career, young professionals will inevitably ask questions “that are obvious to your mentor but not to you.”
- A good mentor has solid values, “so that the advice you’re getting is well guided and a good base from which to grow from: good data in, good data out.”
- Effective mentors provide context, which gives the mentee a better grounding in the possibilities of a given business scenario, Chan says. “This way they can plan what do to short- and long-term to make decisions that are not in a vacuum.”
Jose Chan is vice president of planning for cashmere brand Loro Piana, a division of LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate that counts iconic international names from Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. to Dom Perignon among its brand empire.
Chan got a baptism-by-fire-style introduction to running a global brand in his first job out of college as an associate merchandiser for Countess Mara neckties: Just two weeks into the role, Chan was whisked off to Italy’s textile mills to purchase fabrics for the brand’s collection by its then-president, Tom Vier.
That trip, subsequent overseas jaunts and Vier’s professional guidance formed the “merchandising bootcamp” that proved foundational to Chan’s professional life and his art-and-science based approach to leading a retail business.
Here, Chan shares the invaluable lessons learned from Vier’s mentorship, from leading an international business to building a fashion collection “with data and human intuition.”
CO—: Who is your mentor and why?
JC: I have had many mentors during my professional career. However, my first true professional mentor was Tom Vier, the former president of the neckwear accessories firm Countess Mara [now owned by Randa]. I was an associate merchandiser that worked directly with him.
CO—: What is he like?
JC: Tom is now semi-retired in Florida. He runs a retail shop for beach lovers and surfers, Jupiter Vintage. We reconnected a few months ago, and he has not changed since we first met when I was 23 years old. He is an astute businessperson who also has a merchant’s touch. That is, he has a great blend of business acumen and creativity that was once a hallmark of the retail industry. Moreover, he is generous and has grounded values that help guide his decisions.
CO—: What have you learned from Tom that’s been key, valuable or even game-changing to your career and in leading a business?
JC: Tom literally opened up another world for me. I started on a Monday and by Thursday of the same week, he asked if I was free a weekend from the upcoming weekend. I said that I was, and he said, ‘Great. We are going to Italy for two weeks to work on the upcoming collection. Pack your bags.’
This was my first work and international business trip. We were inseparable during this two-week period. It was a retail and merchandising boot camp. During this time, I learned many valuable business lessons:
- How to do business internationally – understanding the nuances of other cultures.
- The importance of planning, preparation and flexibility, while being entrepreneurial.
- How to build a collection with data and human intuition.
We did this four times a year for almost three years. I was fortunate that for most of my career the majority of travel was international, which is normally the opposite of what executives experience. Normally one travels domestically and the international travel comes later in one’s career.
Had I not met Tom Vier, I likely never would have the holistic view of the business world that I have today and felt at ease operating in it.
CO—: What’s a business scenario from your work life that was informed by the skill sets imparted by your mentor?
JC: Decades later, I am comfortable doing business in international contexts. It has become second nature. Even in new international contexts, I am able to use those early lessons to get a pulse on the local market. Coupled with planning and preparation, it is not a mistake that I am a VP of planning today. All of my prior experiences prepared me for this particular role.
In retail we make a plan and forecast a future that is fungible. It is my job to guide the process and bring the team along as we iterate, as the market is constantly changing. Additionally, today I use a data-driven process that incorporates human intuition. This is what allows me to perform at peak: blending the art and science of retail.
Even by using sophisticated CRM data to segment customers by spend, then adding another layer within the spend bucket to look at the frequency of customers, knowing how to target them can only be done by human beings. [It’s about] knowing how to tailor a message directly to customers and figuring out how to best communicate with them. That could be by saying, ‘You came in before and purchased this item. We have something new to complement what you have.’ Or it sometimes means not selling at all. It could be, ‘One of your hobbies is golf. Here is an event that might interest you.’
The data helps guide my managerial decision-making, but often I have to make calls that may override the data by using human intuition — a fancy way of saying experience and knowledge.
CO—: Is there a recent initiative you’ve spearheaded at LVMH that reflects your mentor’s imprint in some way?
JC: I oversee planning for North America, the outlet division, and began the omnichannel ship-from-store journey for us. The ship-from-store initiative was something I started locally in the U.S., but is now being rolled out globally from our headquarters in Milan. Ship-from-store will ship merchandise from stores rather than a warehouse.
This last initiative is international and involves many department heads from both sides of the Atlantic, as there needs to be a lot of collaboration in order to make a complex project like this work. The project takes a lot of planning and preparation, as we have been working on it for the better part of a year, even during the pandemic. It will launch this year. Although in this particular instance, I am not building a collection, we are still using data and human intuition in order to build a robust project that is quite complex.
CO—: Complete this sentence: Had I not met my mentor, I likely never would have…
JC: Had I not met Tom Vier, I likely never would have the holistic view of the business world that I have today and felt at ease operating in it.
Read more here on the power of mentorship from business leaders.
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Published April 07, 2021