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Fashion and Luxury Companies Struggle to Find Top Talent, Say Industry Experts

Almost 70 Percent of Fashion and Luxury Companies Struggle to Hire Creative Directors, and Many Have Inadequate Talent Pipelines; Those Are Two of the Most Surprising Findings From a New Study by BCG and The Business of Fashion

NEW YORK, NY -- (Marketwired) -- 04/28/14 -- Executives in the fashion and luxury industries are very concerned about finding, developing, and retaining the talented professionals they need to compete today. That is the stark conclusion of The Race for Talent: Fashion and Luxury's Greatest Challenge for the Next Decade, a new State of the Industry report published today by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Business of Fashion.

"One of the biggest challenges facing luxury and fashion companies today is finding, developing, and retaining great creative and business talent," says Jean-Marc Bellaïche, a partner at BCG. Sarah Willersdorf, a principal at BCG, agrees.

Drawing on extensive research by BCG and The Business of Fashion, the report finds that 50 percent of respondents lack access to the best creative talent. And executives are not only concerned about creative roles; they are also anxious to acquire the skills needed to support a wide range of functions.

Although it's encouraging that industry leaders realize they must do more to attract and hold on to skilled employees, it is worrying to learn what's still needed to improve employer branding. Fully 40 percent of those polled admit that they still have no systematic approaches for developing an employer value proposition. Yet many have clearly invested energy and resources to build powerful consumer brands.

It's also clear that there is far to go before fashion and luxury companies tap the full potential of today's digital tools. As many as 62 percent of those polled said that their organizations do not actively use online and social forums for recruiting purposes.

Perhaps most worrying of all: companies do not put adequate emphasis on maintaining a strong talent pipeline and succession pool for their top executives. The study found that 60 percent admitted to substandard performance in this area. This weakness appears to affect large companies as much as it does small independent organizations.

Key Findings

Recruiting challenges exist across the entire spectrum of roles:

  • Design and Product. Top-notch creative directors are scarce; nearly 70 percent of survey respondents said that these professionals are "impossible" or "very difficult" to find. Technical design is another underserved area: 42 percent said that pattern makers are in very short supply.

  • Technology and Digital. It is hard to hire database managers, Web developers, and technical managers -- roles that, in a digital era, could make a big difference to a company's effectiveness. A third of the companies surveyed find it "impossible" or "very difficult" to hire an e-commerce manager.

  • Business and General Management. It is becoming more difficult to find chief executives and general managers who combine analytical and creative skills; retail, product, and brand expertise; and international experience.

  • Employer Branding. The study underscores the fact that too few companies invest enough effort in employer branding. It's something of a paradox because most of the industries' players appear to believe that substantial commitments of time, money, and resources to the branding of their offerings will create a bright halo effect that will serve to attract and retain great talent.

  • Digital Channels. The fashion and luxury industries are still heavily dependent on headhunters and recruiters, with about 40 percent of all new hires sourced via those channels. Companies must pursue digital and social channels much more eagerly.

Key Recommendations

The report confirms that companies must launch active initiatives in five areas:

  • Invest in an employer brand. An employer brand must be built and nurtured as carefully as any product brand. Every company has to find ways to tell its story and be clear about what differentiates it from others as an employer. Then the company must take those stories and messages out to current employees and potential candidates through the right channels -- and keep doing so.

  • Consider strategic workforce planning. This rigorous, systematic approach to talent defines the capabilities that a business needs to succeed in the context of its strategic objectives. It also maps the current availability of the required capabilities. By comparing the data for demand and supply, companies can then quickly see where their most crucial talent gaps lie.

  • Reinforce the use of digital and social media to source the best candidates. To create a portrait of the company that will help bolster its employer brand, companies should use all digital channels and platforms -- from Google+ and Pinterest networks to targeted e-mail programs. To augment their recruiting strategies, companies must increasingly reach out through their websites, job forums, and social media.

  • Get to know the schools (personally). Companies can get closer to pools of fresh talent by forging closer relationships with educational institutions.

  • Focus on identifying and building tomorrow's leaders. Companies need to identify both prospects and current employees who combine creative know-how with business acumen and then develop customized programs to hire, develop, and retain them.

The full findings of the report will be available by early June.

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or [email protected].

About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 81 offices in 45 countries. For more information, please visit

About features the latest thinking from BCG experts as well as from CEOs, academics, and other leaders. It covers issues at the top of senior management's agenda. It also provides unprecedented access to BCG's extensive archive of thought leadership stretching back 50 years to the days of Bruce Henderson, the firm's founder and one of the architects of modern management consulting. All of our content -- including videos, podcasts, commentaries, and reports -- can be accessed by PC, mobile, iPad, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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