Maria Eugenia Giron is executive director of the IE Business School Premium and Prestige Business Observatory. Sponsored by Mastercard, the observatory researches luxury and premium consumption. She is also a professor at the Spanish school teaching luxury entrepreneurship.
After growing up in Spain, Prof Eugenia studied for a degree in industrial engineering before moving to the US for her MBA at Harvard Business School. Her first job was at First Chicago Bank as a financial analyst. She then moved into luxury goods retailing where she has more than 18 years experience.
1. What is an average day at work like?
I always have many different projects going on. For example, some days you will find me working with the founder of 24Fab, a start-up that rents out designer dresses, or planning an event with some of the best chefs in the world in support of Oceana, the ocean conservation organisation where I serve on the board. I also spend time in the classroom, teaching MBA students and regularly meet with fellow angel investors of Go Beyond to talk about possible new investments. I also travel frequently to London, Geneva and Washington DC.
One constant for me, though, is an early breakfast. At 6am every day I take time to plan out my day, wherever I am. I set annual goals for myself and every week I review how I have spent my time and what I have done to get closer to these objectives. It is a useful tool to help me stay focused on what is important and to define priorities with so many things going on at once.
2. What would you do if you were dean for the day?
Host a celebration of learning. I would honour all those in the world who fight for education, creating a space to feature their stories. I would involve everyone in talks, seminars and exchanges on the meaning of education and I would have an award for the best education initiatives and ventures by students.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
There are no shortcuts. Success is the result of patience, enthusiasm, practice, not giving up and working hard.
4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
For business, cash is king. Never underestimate the reality check of cash flow. The ability of a business to generate cash reflects its real value. This is not to be confused with the mission of a business and the role it plays in society. Companies have to be responsible to all stakeholders, from employees to shareholders to suppliers, clients and the communities where they work.
Brunello Cucinelli is a good example of this in the luxury goods industry. It is a company known for its social practices as well as its successful IPO.
5. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
Have the confidence to follow your dreams. Think big and don’t impose limits on yourself. While it is easier said than done, I really do believe that if you find your true passion, you will love what you do and do what you love for life.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
In entrepreneurial ventures, success is gauged by results and performance is measured by returns and value creation. This levels the playing field. Maybe this is the reason why women tend to thrive better in an entrepreneurial environment than in the corporate world where performance has other meanings. It is the reason why I chose to be an entrepreneur.
7. What is the last book you read?
The story of Malala Yousafzai. It is powerful and inspiring.
8. What is your favorite business book?
The book I go back to is Competitive Advantage by Michael Porter, which is a great framework to understand any industry. Also Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim is so relevant to the luxury goods industry, where each brand is a new ocean.
9. Which top tip would you highlight from your new book?
Luxury and sustainability are allies and converge - the misconception is that they do not belong together but this is not true. Luxury and sustainability both deal with our values and our aspirations. Luxury manages scarcity, exclusivity, even our dreams. What is more limited, scarce and aspirational today than a healthy planet? We must change our behaviours in order to make sustainable development a reality.
10. What are your tips for networking?
Make sure that you look for the person not the job title. First because it is more fun and enriching, but also because it drives meaningful relationships that matter.