“Since I was a student I wanted to manage a company and today this desire has been fulfilled, thanks also to Bocconi. In fact, many of my professional achievements have been made possible by the tools I have acquired during my university career “. So Francesca Bellettini, president and CEO of Saint Laurent and former Business Administration graduate in 1994, remembers her Bocconi years.
In October 2018, she was named Bocconi Alumna of the Year, an award which honors one person who stands out by adhering to the Bocconi values of professionalism, initiative, integrity, responsibility and an openness to pluralism. The last woman winner before her has been Emma Bonino, key political figure in the Italian system, in 1998: it is extremely motivating to see one more on the list and it would be desirable to see more and more female leaders and managers show up on the list from now on.
Bellettini has built an outstanding professional path, with the right balance between analysis and flair, rationality and creativity. Even if her extensive managerial experience focuses on the fashion industry, she has spent her early career days in the investment banking titan Goldman Sachs. Then, the career switch: in 1999 she joined Prada and in 2003 she joined Kering, the French luxury giant with over 11 billion euros, owned by the Pinault family. Working first for Gucci and later for Bottega Veneta, in 2013 she was appointed CEO of Saint Laurent and took part in an important rebranding operation of the fashion house.
“Francesca accepted the challenge of leading Saint Laurent with courage and dedication and started a process of profound renewal and redefinition, while at the same time keeping unchanged the brand’s DNA and its iconic and nonconformist style” says Riccardo Monti, president of the Bocconi Alumni Community.
Her major contribution to the maison was to enhance the creativity and artistic sense of fashion to increase the business numbers that are oh-so-important in the luxury world. In the words of Francesca herself: ‘Modernity is to allow creativity to express themselves’. This well reflects her managerial thinking and her personality: in the fashion world, creativity must be placed at the center of the company, which must be organized in such a way as to stimulate inspiration and not to stifle it. For Bellettini, what and who surrounds her is crucial, because no extraordinary goal can be achieved without a well-oiled teamwork machine: raised in a multicultural and international context, based on trust, focused on innovation and passion, without any compromise. Moreover, as both president and CEO, you must be able to build a truthful and respectful relationship with the creative director and ensure that he can express himself fully. “This is the only way to generate the dream, the aspirational effect that attracts and generates the value of the brand. Obviously, there are aspects of pure business such as a clear and agile organizational structure, the organization of the production chain, the management of distribution channels and above all the management of people, the ability to attract and retain talent. But if creativity is lacking, the difference is not made.”
A winning formula for Saint Laurent that, in the years following the arrival of Francesca, recorded an annual growth of over 23%. And the YSL business is still growing much faster than the 6-to-8 percent growth of the overall luxury market, according to Bain & Company. On top of that, the business is on target to reach Bellettini’s stated revenue target of €2 billion by 2022, making it the second largest business in the Kering stable after Gucci.
What we like about Francesca Bellettini is the fact that she distinguishes herself from the stereotypical idea of a woman in the fashion world: she does not style her hair and she does not use mascara, nor foundation. Her style is minimal, professional, and it leaves zero space for useless frills. Also, she does not speak French, which is odd and unusual whilst being at the head of one of the most iconic French brands. But – she swears – she is always striving to learn more and do more: as if the life of a director could not be busier enough, she also started to dedicate every Monday morning to a French lesson. A woman of her caliber, apparently, just cannot stop: three mornings a week she runs 10 kilometers along the Seine or goes for a kickboxing session with a personal trainer.
How can she find the time to manage it all is the real question, but we already know that a burning determination is the correct answer. Even her motto is the ultimate motivational quote: “You have to know where you want to go, and you have to behave as if you were already there”. And when still asked “What will you do when you grow up?”, the manager replies: “I would like to be thrilled again. The size of the company is not relevant, the important thing is to work for interesting projects in this sector.” Impeccable and inspirational.
Perhaps the X factor that took the brand to the next level is one of the simplest things: a genuine conversation with not only clients, but the world as a whole. Bellettini affirms that authenticity is the core of building meaningful relationships with the Saint Laurent customer, starting first with the employees. “I hate when I go to stores and I see sales associates that give you a speech that they’ve been given and you can tell they don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said during an interview with Business of Fashion – “it’s better to present yourself the way you really are…Be authentic. If they choose you, they remain with you.”