The latest instalment in our On Work / On Play series with luxury CEOs. This month: Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, CEO of Boucheron
2015-present: CEO of Boucheron
2014-2015: International business and client development director of Cartier International
2010-2014: International marketing director and member of the executive committee of Cartier International
1998-2010: Joined Cartier International, responsible for marketing and business development in the watchmaking sector
Q. Who inspires you?
A. In my professional life, it’s Frédéric Boucheron. On a personal level, [the late] Simone Veil was a famous French politician. Her story is incredible. She was a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and she kept on fighting for Europe and women’s rights. She has had a fighting spirit since her childhood, being in the concentration camp at five years old. Her story is very French and very inspiring.
Q. If you weren’t in this business, what would you be doing?
A. I think I might be raising horses. I also think I might be an artist. My family decided that I should go to business school. I have a traditional French family. I think half of my brain is totally artistic, and the other half, business. That’s why I need to work with a brand like Boucheron. This job has given me opportunities to develop both my business and artistic sides.
Q. Have you planned your summer holiday yet?
A. I’m going on holiday to China because I want my children to experience China. I love China so much that I want to introduce Chinese culture to my children. We are going to Beijing to see the Forbidden City, Great Wall and Summer Palace.
Q. What is your opinion on the omnichannel influence on brick-and-mortar retail?
A. I’m totally [convinced] that omnichannel is necessary and we have to go for it. In fact, it’s one of our major projects for the coming years. It’s not about selling online but about a client, during the process of buying, is jumping from offline to online. So you need a brick-and-mortar [presence], and you also need online because customers can select information, prepare for their purchase and then go to the store. [Luxury brands] have to adapt to that.
Q. What do you think are the challenges for luxury high jewellers in embracing e-commerce?
A. I think it will always be difficult to sell big high jewellery pieces online. When you buy a ring for 4,000 to 5,000 euros (HK$36,800 to HK$46,100) on the internet, it’s OK. We have had great results working with Net-a-Porter on our iconic collections, such as the Quatre collection. When it comes to high jewellery, however, you will also need the relationship with the salesperson, if not with the whole team. Customers want to have that [intimate] relationship linked with the brand. They want to be reassured. I think that for high-end pieces, it’s going to be a little bit slow [in terms of online sales].
Q. Boucheron has been tirelessly incorporating new innovations and new materials in high jewellery, why is that important for you?
A. Innovation is integrated into our DNA. Our founder, Frédéric Boucheron, was very innovative. Our current creative director, Claire Choisne, is perfect [to carry on the legacy] because she also has an innovative mind. She likes to work with new materials and is constantly pushing the boundaries. I think in life if you don’t take risky [decisions] or break the rules at some point, you cannot achieve something big. I really feel that you have to permanently try to improve and to [keep] moving. “Status quo” is not in my vocabulary.
Q. Boucheron is expanding its retail network in China and Asia-Pacific. What does the future hold for Boucheron in the region?
A. I hope it will be great. The most important thing for us is to make sure that we open retail spaces in the right place. It’s not easy, because we are coming in late. But we keep pushing. We need more stores and to have retail [networks] in China to be sure that Chinese customers understand what we are doing. We are really a “new” but “old” brand for China – for Chinese customers, we are totally new, but we have 160 years of heritage. I feel that Chinese customers are ready for something different.