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CEO Dialogue Series

Business

Focusing on the facts to tailor a new future for fashion

28 September 2021 in CEO Dialogue Series

PVH’s Stefan Larsson on his approach to rebuilding the apparel business, sustainably...

When Stefan Larsson took over as chief executive of Old Navy almost a decade ago, the tired US retail brand, a division of Gap Inc., had been written off by many as it stumbled in the face of nimbler competitors.

But by the time he left to join fashion brand Ralph Lauren three years later, the Swedish executive had turned the company around, applying lessons from an earlier, 15-year stint at H&M, which had pioneered more youthful styles and rapid time-to-market.

The key driver of his ability to achieve success, he said, was setting aside the temptation to be driven by intuition and instead having an honest and open approach to assessing the situation around him and his new team. Setting clear objectives was vital, too.

“When I come into something, whether it’s a new role or a new company, I map out all the facts. So in the Old Navy situation, I mapped out where we really were in terms of the consumer, the competition, our internal KPIs [key performance indicators] and brought the whole management team around the table,” Larsson told IMD President Jean-François Manzoni.

“Sometimes as leaders, we have a tendency to be guided by our intuition. If we speak directly from this intuition, emotionally, it tends to be more difficult to get alignment. But if you put the facts on the table, you can quickly create this shared understanding of where you are.”

At the start, it wasn’t easy. Even though Old Navy was in a bad place, most division heads “walked around with heavy binders proving that they knew they were doing the right things in their areas”, Larsson says. Gathering the top six leaders into a room, he told them that walking around with binders may make everyone feel good temporarily, but the reality was rather different.

“I told them: team, we are in a very tough place. Can we just put all the binders down on the floor and jointly agree where we are, what the three main priorities are, and on our ability to from this moment to learn and execute?” Every week thereafter, he chaired a “learning session” for his team. This fact-based, analytical approach has carried him through two decades in retail to his current role at PVH Corp., where he this year became chief executive after arriving as president just before COVID-19 hit. PVH is a New York-headquartered brand company includes the iconic Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein fashion brands, which make up 85 percent of its revenues. Tracing its roots to a small business making clothes for coal miners in 19th century Pennsylvania, the group has approximately 33,000 employees and generated over $7 billion in revenues in 2020. 

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