How to Pivot to a Career in Luxury with an MBA
Updated: Feb 27
Article written by: Eric Lucrezia, MBA Admissions Consultant, creator of Candidate Coach, author of the book series "Getting into an MBA", and co-host of the weekly vidcast, MBA Waves.
Are you passionate about a particular luxury brand? Are you fascinated by how luxury brands can motivate millions of people to spend far more than the market rate of an equivalent product? For example, people will shell out 5,000€ for a Montblanc pen instead of just 5¢ for a Bic. But why?
If this resonates with you, you may have what it takes for a career in luxury brand management.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that there are only a handful of business schools out there that are worth your time and money if you’re looking to transform your career into the glamorous universe of luxury brands. Considering management roles at companies in the luxury space are highly coveted and relatively limited when compared to companies that deliver for the masses, like Unilever or Procter & Gamble, and therefore getting a seat in an MBA focusing on luxury brand management is extremely competitive.
The last school I worked at was ESSEC Business School in Paris, France, where I was the Director of Recruitment for MBA programs, including the MBA in Luxury Brand Management. ESSEC was the first school in the world to create an MBA focusing on luxury, launching the program in 1995, and is not only the oldest, most established MBA of its kind, but ESSEC has by far the largest and most diverse alumni network, with fantastic careers across all sectors of luxury. ESSEC is without question one of the first places you should be seeking admission if you’re looking for that stamp of approval to enter the luxury world.
What are the most represented segments of luxury, you might be asking…
Fashion & Accessories
Fragrances & Cosmetics
Watches & Jewels
Wines & Spirits
Cars & Yachts
Art & Auction Houses
Hotels, Travel, Experiences, & other services
Unsurprisingly the majority of the most respected in luxury will come from France and Italy. If you think about it, the concept of luxury was born from the opulence of European kings and queens. If there was no Louis XIV bathed in Eau de Toilette (thankfully!) or the Romanov family of Tsars showing off their Fabergé Eggs, would luxury even exist in its current form? Some of the oldest luxury houses were directly inspired by European royalty’s aesthetics and standards. The lucky few whose unique objects of beauty with which kings and queens were once adored gave way to the modern concept of luxury. Basically having the bragging rights of the guy who made the royal jewels (or robes, or candles, and so on…) was a way to have fame and fortune. Look, not everyone can be the king, but if you have a certain skill or product, you certainly could make an amazing career with your unique, and highly esteemed talents. Today when a regular client walks into a boutique of a luxury brand, the magical feeling of being a royal is created again.
If you think about it, I’m sure you can think of at least a few multinational luxury brands that fall into each one of these categories. As an applicant to an MBA, a master’s, or an executive master’s in luxury (EMiLUX), or even a certificate program, you are best advised to articulate your goals, in terms of which segment of luxury you are targeting, and perhaps more importantly, which role you want to work in. As with any MBA application, having clearly defined goals, particularly with regard to your target function is paramount. In this case, you may be targeting sales, marketing, brand management, product development, duty-free sales, or perhaps a finance or strategy role within the company…the list goes on, but you need a clear vision, which takes time. As an Admissions Coach, I often say, it takes a lot of researching and soul searching.
Business School Options and Rankings.
So what schools are my best bet to launch my career in luxury? Since there are really only a handful of MBA programs that do this, you won’t see MBAs in luxury properly represented in any of the main rankings lists, like the Financial Times, US News & World Report, the Economist, or QS. You will however find smaller rankings organizations that publish rankings on more niche programs like hospitality management, sports management, or luxury. A couple of rankings lists to consider for luxury are Best Masters and Find MBA. Keep in mind, a school that is highly prestigious in general may not necessarily be the best suited for a career as niche and nuanced as the luxury industry. Here is a list of schools who offer either an MBA, Executive Master’s, or at least a strong specialization in Luxury Brand Management
ESSEC Business School (France)
SDA Bocconi School of Management (Italy)
NYU Stern (USA)
Sup de Luxe (France)
HEC Paris (France)
Columbia University (USA)
International University of Monaco (Monaco)
EM Lyon Business School (France)
Bologna Business School (Italy)
Institut Français de la Mode (France)
London Business School (UK)
How you can get admitted.
The good news is that the vast majority of people into MBAs in luxury are career switchers, meaning they do not have direct professional experience working in luxury; however - and this is BIG - they must demonstrate a deep understanding of how luxury brands work, and have a real passion for working luxury. They must understand what I like to call the 5 pillars of luxury brand (see below), and how they interplay with one another to create an experience that is unsurpassable, that is exclusive, that creates desire, that makes the customer identify with that brand and develops his or her own passion for the brand and its products and services. If you are a career switcher (and this is true for any MBA hopeful), there are things you can do to align yourself with your future career - and this is even more crucial for those targeting the luxury industry. For many, there is some family history, a link to a relative who fixed old watches or made dresses or wine on a family farm. Develop that story in you. This is your heritage. For others who like to write, they’ll create their own blog or grow a following on Instagram or Tiktok that highlights their passion for a certain brand or kind of products, for example unique cars or fine champagnes. For others, the pathway includes attending conferences or joining clubs associated with luxury goods. You should consider a subscription to Business of Fashion, Vogue Business, or E-Luxe Magazine, to really be in the know of the latest trends. At least be sure to read the free articles! If you’re looking to change countries, your pre-MBA path will likely include learning a foreign language. And frankly if you’re going to work in luxury, it’s always a huge plus to be able to speak French or Italian. These are just some of the suggestions I give to my clients.
The 5 Pillars of Luxury Brands.
Of course you’ll still need a solid GMAT score, references, and perhaps a TOEFL, but the key to get shortlisted for an interview (as always) is the essays. Particularly in the world of luxury, telling a great story is paramount to making the sale. If you’re going to be managing a luxury brand in the future, convincing people to spend thousands or perhaps millions on your products, your first job is to learn how to sell yourself. Responding to application essays is the space to prove that you’ve got the skills.
Of course, top luxury houses like Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Rolex,.... (as well as their clients) expect professionals with a vast knowledge of luxury but also a certain finesse, poise, refinement, and personal sense of style. We don’t expect the person representing Louis Vuitton to be looking and swearing like a sailor fresh into port. So that said, it’s more than just how candidates appear on paper that is important to these business schools. Once you’ve been shortlisted, you’ll almost definitely be called for an interview, preferably in person, for an MBA in luxury brand management. This is your opportunity to wow them. That is not to say you need to purchase a $10K suit for the occasion, but you need to look and sound great, and show that you fit the part.
What to do next?
If you’re feeling more inspired than ever about working for a luxury brand, it’s time to get to work. If you don’t already know, figure out which kinds of products or services really spark that fire within you, and learn everything you can about that brand from its humble origins. And it’s time to start developing your own story, how it connects with that brand (even if from a distance), as well as how you see yourself connecting to your school of target which will be the catalyst your career needs to make the move. If you’d like to have a free consultation to go more into depth, shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you.
To learn more, check out this episode of MBA Waves Episode n°88: "A Luxury MBA or an MBA in Luxury Brand Management?"
Click here for details about COACHING SERVICES for an MBA in Luxury Brand Management
Eric Lucrezia is originally from New York and has lived in Paris, France for over 12 years. He has worked in higher education and coaching for 23 years.
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