Yves Carcelle, Louis Vuitton CEO: Being exclusive doesn’t mean to exclude !

Yves Carcelle, Louis Vuitton

“If I was to be remembered at all, I would like it to be as a man of passion ( ) A man who loved to share his passion with others and who gathered a whole bunch of passionate people together to work with.” says Yves Carcelle, CEO of Louis Vuitton, world’s leading luxury brand.

Carcelle studied mathematics and physics and graduated at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. “But I was more interested in marketing (a new field in the late 60’s). Therefore I took a job in sales for Spontex, the sponge company.”  “My year group was the most diverse and multicultural group I have ever worked with, both in terms of nationalities and backgrounds. I remember there was a refugee from communist Czechoslovakia, a Belgian engineer, a Norwegian who spoke six languages and an Austrian lawyer. Everyone had a different approach of doing things and it really opened my mind. This experience has been a fantastic asset throughout my career.”

For his statement in INSEAD’s 1963 MBA Alumni, Yves Carcelle speaks of how, at the graduation ceremony in Japan, he ‘’swore’’ to go back one day and he did, almost 20 years later, as Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton.

Yves Carcelle came back to Spontex after INSEAD but left after six months and joined Blendax (a German Cosmetic manufacturer) in a marketing and sales role. Following this experience, Yves ran Absorba (children’s wear) for five years and turned around Descamps (home textiles) for another five years, before catching the attention of Bernard Arnault, who hired him in 1990 to run Louis Vuitton.

 ‘’Being exclusive doesn’t mean to exclude’’ is one of Yves Carcelle’s mottos in business. He strongly believes in social responsibility and social involvement which he views as a way of paying respect and encouraging creativity, beauty and workmanship.  What better to illustrate his beliefs than with two beehives which he placed on the roof top of the head offices of Vuitton in Paris and his bees produce today, 75 kilos of honey. In a recent interview to Italian media he said ‘’Bees in Paris produce more honey picking pollen from the multitude of flowers in all the Parisian parks and the reason is that no chemicals have been spread on these flowers’’. He insists social responsibility and ecology are about giving back and paying respect and this philosophy is at the core of Louis Vuitton strategy, to preserve nature, encourage creativity, support craftsmanship, in one word creating opportunities for people to thrive and take joy in the smallest things.  

In an interview in 2008, when asked about his global expansion ambitions and the risk of diluting the Vuitton brand, once a specialized trunk maker, Yves Carcelle explained what he considered  as the “the paradox of luxury,”. The paradox, according to Mr. Carcelle is aiming to increase the opportunities for growth while maintaining the exclusivity of the brand. He also stressed that it was important for a luxury brand such as Vuitton to inspire people, hence the geographical expansion of the company, which is also motivated by the Vuitton’s need to become closer to consumers.

There is also another important motivation for the geographical expansion and that is given by Vuitton unique business strategy of directly controlling the entire process, from manufacturing, marketing, logistics to the actual retail. Vuitton products are exclusively available in directly operated stores. Even if there are Vuitton corners in major luxury department stores worldwide, sales are actually performed by Vuitton employed staff. This ‘’obsessive’’ control over the entire business structure has proven to be the company’s winning strategy, thus being able to maintain exclusivity, while being available in strategic locations worldwide. The fact that the company maintains full control over all its operations, including designing and furnishing of all its stores, has made the expansion process slower than for other luxury brands. Some of Vuitton’s direct competitors such as Prada and Gucci aspire for increased control over their distribution and have, in the past half–decade, rebuilding their structures in such a way to be able to manage opening more directly operated stores.

Carcelle’s innate marketing talent has also been instrumental when creating the Journeys advertising campaign of Louis Vuitton, one of the most successfull and most enduring advertising campaigns in the luxury industry worldwide.  The core philosophy of the campaign is to illustrate what a crucial part the process of self-discovery plays when going on a journey because it is the actual place that enables the process the self-discovery. A journeying man needs to be provided with restful luxury that inspires travel…

Oliver Petcu