On my radar: In a high tech world, industry borders don't exist

2015-10-06 10:26
Ian Rogers joined Apple last year to become the CEO of Beats, but now he’s moving on to luxury brand LVMH to head up the company’s digital strategy
PHOTO: Eric Ray Davidson

Ian Rogers joined Apple last year to become the CEO of Beats, but now he’s moving on to luxury brand LVMH to head up the company’s digital strategy PHOTO: Eric Ray Davidson

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Last month, when the luxury group Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) announced that it was hiring a certain Ian Rogers to head the French conglomerate’s digital strategy, the news sent shock waves through Silicon Valley in California.

Many in Silicon Valley consider Rogers the guru of the online music revolution. He joined Apple last year to become the senior director at Apple Music– a digital music-streaming service that Apple acquired from musicians Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine through the Beats brand for $3 billion.

Rogers had just finished developing Apple’s online radio strategy and launched the Beats 1 radio service before defecting to the world of luxury goods. This industry switch caught everyone by surprise.

The surprise reaction is puzzling because the reverse process – senior luxury goods executives being poached by digital businesses – has been happening for some time now. In 2013, Paul Deneve, the CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, crossed industry borders and accepted the position of vice-president of special projects for Apple.

This cross-pollination between the fashion and tech industries was kick-started by the popularity of wearable tech, and the marriage between the fashion industry and the tech world was perhaps inevitable.

When Apple’s iWatch was launched, Apple sales staff were given a crash course in fashion styling so that they could provide the sartorial link between fashion-savvy customers and new wearable tech.

For LVMH, the strategy is both long term as well as urgent.

The luxury industry has long been resistant to online shopping. When e-commerce started gaining ground, the luxury industry did not think online shopping was appropriate for an old-world industry steeped in tradition and craftsmanship.

Luxury brands mistakenly believed their products could (and should) only be sold in ahigh-end bricks and mortar environment. That assumption turned out to be horribly misguided.

Last year, 21% of luxury in-store sales only took place after the customers had researched the products online.

Add to that the fact that Chinese customers – most of whom are completely at ease with online shopping – account for 30% of global luxury sales, and the decision to restructure the luxury sector around digital became an obvious one.

Soon after Rogers’ appointment, Apple also announced it was collaborating with Paris’ Hermès as a design partner for its new range of smartwatches.

The same cross-pollination of skill sets is happening in other industries. It signals an emerging trend of hiring people with vastly different skill sets to what was traditionally required for the job, and just like the tech and luxury-fashion convergence, this need for alternative skills has been spawned by the ongoing business disruption that is being experienced in almost every industry.

Take Uber for example – the perfect case study in business disruption.

The online transportation network is not only disrupting the transport industry, but it hires people with very different skills in strategic positions who are able to meet the challenges the disruption creates.

Last year, Uber appointed David Plouffe – US President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager – to steer its global business strategy, taking cross-industry strategic thinking to another level.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick explained the rationale of Plouffe’s appointment: “Over the years, what I’ve come to realise is this controversy [around Uber] exists because we are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber.

Our opponent – the big taxi cartels – has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for drivers.”

Approaching a business strategy as a political campaign is not only innovative, but necessary in a world where business templates are being reinvented and it’s your company that’s rewriting the rules.

We’re only seeing the start of this skills revolution, and the disruptive tremors are being felt acutely in tertiary education.

Globally, youth unemployment is a problem, and postgraduate students in many countries are finding that their hard-earned degrees are no longer a guarantee of employment.

It’s not just a lack of jobs, but in a world where business disruption is the norm, skills like adaptability, learning on the job and industry experience to navigate increasingly frequent curve balls are more prized than being schooled in academic theory.

Obviously, careers such as law and medicine still need to adhere to the academic process, but increasingly, academia is not preparing students for the demands of new industries in a new world order.

Today, completely different skill sets are needed to drive modern businesses, and companies are more often considering “fit versus qualification”.

If you can slot into the company culture, your skills can, and inevitably will, be adapted. So for parents who still insist their children “get a degree to fall back on”, that advice is fast becoming as obsolete as a dial-up modem.

. Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com. 
Read more on:    uber

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