Leadership for the future in fashion, luxury, and design: An interview with Matteo De Rosa, CEO of Métiers d'Art
Consumer Markets

Leadership for the future in fashion, luxury, and design: An interview with Matteo De Rosa, CEO of Métiers d'Art

Matteo De Rosa, CEO of Métiers d'Art, a division of LVMH, discusses the benefits of diversity, empathy, and inspiring teams.
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In this next episode of The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast, Heidrick & Struggles’ Chiara Berlendi speaks to Matteo De Rosa, the CEO of Métiers d'Art, a division of luxury company LVMH. De Rosa discusses how diverse teams benefit organizations and shares how his own wide range of experiences, from entrepreneur to CEO, working in China and across Europe, and in organizations of a variety of ownership structures, have helped him become a better leader. He also offers advice to his younger self as well as to people within Métiers d'Art who aspire to be leaders in the company one day. 

Below is a full transcript of the episode, which has been edited for clarity.

Welcome to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation. 

Chiara Berlendi: Hello everyone, I'm Chiara Berlendi, a principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ Milan office focusing on the fashion, luxury, and design industries. I'm also a member of the Consumer Markets Practice. In today's podcast, I'm talking to Matteo De Rosa, CEO of the Métiers d'Art, a division at LVMH, the business unit of the luxury giant dedicated to the procurement of raw materials and the transmission and preservation of the brand standards and knowledge processes. Matteo joined LVMH as CEO of Métiers d’Art in October 2021. Previously, he was president of the Belgian fashion house Dries Van Noten, which is owned by the Spanish group Puig. Prior to that, Matteo was CEO of the Chinese Canadian ready-to-wear brand Ports 1961. And, earlier in his career, he cofounded the leather goods brand Sartie. 

Matteo, welcome, and thank you for taking the time to be with us today.

Matteo De Rosa: Thank you, Chiara, for having me. I'm very glad to be having this conversation with you. 

Chiara Berlendi: Matteo, how would you sum up what it is like to be a CEO today, and how is the CEO role evolving, in your opinion?

Matteo De Rosa: I can start with a with kind of a joke that really isn’t one: being a CEO today, it means being almost a psychologist. We have a great, diverse team. And, in my experience, you need to have a great deal of understanding, a great deal of patience to manage and create teams that are reflecting today's society. It’s not always easy. Having great entrepreneurship and leadership skills in the way that a CEO must today [is important for] being a manager, but the face of a company is really the leader, and so he needs to own his team and his role, set the key milestones, and then set the way forward. He must also be able to take upon direct risk, all while coordinating the team to go ahead. It's a very well-rounded role and based every day on people. And people are our best asset. We don’t call it human resources anymore—I call it human capital. It’s about what people can do if you give them the chance to flourish. 

Chiara Berlendi: This is not your first CEO role. I was wondering if, in the last two years, you have observed certain leadership skills or capabilities that are now truly needed that were not perhaps as important a few years ago? 

Matteo De Rosa: I cannot really compare the roles much because, in my career, I have not worked in a constant, let's say, region of the world. So, I went from Italy, in my early age of being an entrepreneur, to China, mainland China, as one of the few experts in a real Chinese company, not in the European division of company. And then I went back to Europe, to Belgium, and now here. So, already the complexity of managing cultures and understanding them made the roles completely different—they were completely different populations. So, I can't really answer whether some skills were needed now compared to before, because they are completely different roles for me. 

I can say that, in Asia, the trade union in between all of these roles is really how we make our team perform at its best, how we give them the tools and the motivation to strive in their roles. And this is the biggest difference, because every culture has key elements that are unique. In China, for instance, the way of life of the people, the stage in life that they are in—if they have a family, if they don't have family, if they have kids—that is what motivates them. The underlying structure of the culture is completely different from Europe. In Europe, they're completely different, in Belgium compared to where I am now. In my previous role at Dries Van Noten, I had a team in Belgium that was quite cohesive compared to where I am now, where I have a fully diverse team, with a fully diverse basket of companies, only one of which is in France. All the others are international, from the United States to Australia. And every day we have teams synergize and communicate together. So, the nuances are very sophisticated. They require a lot of time, passion, and understanding [to support] differences, and place people in a system where there is no contradiction but actually, they, in their contradiction, create added value all the time. And that's why, for me, being a leader means being a bridge between cultures, a visionary in the way of setting the bar high and then motivating people, making them understand [the goals] and then letting them operate in their own way to arrive to these goals. It's very important. It's basically like being an orchestra director: you have a lot of different instruments you need to [bring together to create] a perfect melody. 

Chiara Berlendi: What you said about understanding the different capabilities that everyone brings and enhancing them, I think, personally, is a very difficult thing to do.

Matteo De Rosa: It required a lot of time, it required a lot of one-to-one interactions, and it required a lot of personal involvement. But this is the nature of my job. We have more than 20 companies all over the world. I have almost daily interaction with each of our founders or each of our CEOs, plus their interaction with my team here. That's why I said it’s like being a psychologist and also about being someone that motivates. Give them the keys, giving them the goals, give them a common ground of understanding. It’s really, really important.

Chiara Berlendi: Do you think that to be a psychologist for your company and organization, you need, first, as a CEO, to have done self-introspective work on yourself? 

Matteo De Rosa: I did several times—three times in my career. Every time I changed position. So, after my brand, after Ports, after Dries, I worked with a coach for six months to understand my path, to put, let's say, a stop mark in life and move ahead.

Chiara Berlendi: If you had the chance to speak to a younger Matteo De Rosa and give him advice, what would be three pieces of advice? 

Matteo De Rosa: I think it's natural for everyone that when they take on the CEO role for the first time at a younger age, they really want to show that they can make it, you know? They want to show short-term results. Sometimes they want to make a mark very fast. As an entrepreneur and a CEO, time and a fast pace is in the nature of my work, because if you are a business developer, if you want to go for an opportunity, you have to be fast sometimes. One of the pieces of advice that I would give myself and that I keep giving myself every day is to, first, be more patient and, second, slow down. It's really important that, yes, you achieve some goals, but also that you take time to settle and to really understand what you're touching, why you're touching it, and how you’re doing it. So, this is advice that I would give myself.

Chiara Berlendi: And, Matteo, do think that the learnings you're sharing with us today were the result of the fact that you worked for companies with such different ownership structures? So, at the beginning when I was introducing you, I shared the fact that you were an entrepreneur, you worked for a founder-led company, and you worked for a family-owned and designer-led brand. And today, you're working for a listed company, a larger entity, which is also still sort of family-owned. How do you think working for companies of different ownership structures prepared you or built your skill set as a CEO today?

Matteo De Rosa: In all honesty, I can do today what I do at my age because I was an entrepreneur. When you are an entrepreneur, when you take risks on yourself, you really understand that whatever you touch has an implication, and it has implications for you. I decided to end my experience as an entrepreneur, because of, for one, the financial pressure. I don't come from a wealthy family background, and the financial structure of the exposure was too great. Luckily enough, I found someone who could help, and I ended that experience. But, really, from doing the parcel, from being on the ground cutting ladders, from being with the maker that is creating the bag, then being seated on the opposite side of the president of Isetan in Japan, to being in front of a bank to ask for loans, you really understand that what you do has repercussions. And that made me aware of how a company really, fully works. 

In all the other companies I worked in, they have different structures, different ownership structures, but at the end of the day, there is always a family, even today. And, in that way, I could relate to the founders. I can relate even now in my role with the founders of the companies that we acquire, and that gives me a very big advantage compared to some of my peers. So, yes, it all comes down sometimes to that experience. 

The second part comes down to the fact that I worked in very different backgrounds, as I said before, in very different cultures. And being able to adapt locally, from my almost eight years in China to a year and a half at Dries Van Noten to here, today, it shows and requires a lot of selflessness, because you are in a different context. You are the one to add to that, not the other to you. And it puts you in a position of looking, understanding, absorbing as much as possible, and then bringing to the table what can be of value. We were discussing it before: in diversity, we strive. It’s true. In my case, it was always that. I was bringing to the table my piece that was different [from others]. But when you can comprehend how the two disparate pieces work together, they work exponentially. What we say today is that one plus one has to be three, not two. So, these, to me, are the key points that in my career helped me arrive where I am today and will help me take the next steps tomorrow.

Chiara Berlendi: You mentioned the fact that being an entrepreneur in the past, although stressful and scary and not comfortable at all, allowed you then, later on, especially now at Métiers d’Art, to empathize more with the owners of the companies you acquire. Is there any concrete example you can share with us, maintaining privacy, of how you were able to empathize in a way that, you know, some of your colleagues—because not all CEOs are previous entrepreneurs—would have not been able to, maybe?

Matteo De Rosa: Well I'll give you one that is very simple but is indicative of this relationship. You know, some CEOs put a lot of stress on the importance of financial results, for instance, which is a given, but without understanding that some financial results are actually the fruit of some actions. In my dialogues, in my exchange with founders, the first thing about which we talk is never the financial indicators of a company. It's actually an industrial plan or what we are doing together—what are the actions, what are the products, what are the systems, what are the operations? This creates a financial output. And this is where the conversation is based. If this is right, the financial output will for sure be right. So, the change of paradigm, let's say, is the connection of what you know best and what they know the best. Because when you are an entrepreneur, you live your product. You are passionate about your companies. If you produce leather, you're passionate and you wake up at 6 a.m. every day to check the tracker of the leather shipment and you make it together with your artisan. When you are in the field of creating garments, you are there with your artisan doing that. I was the same. So I perfectly understand that if something goes wrong in this chain, the financial indicator of my profitability is what takes the hit, not vice versa. So, my first questions are always about the field and then we go and see the rest while, you know, sometimes my peers do not do that.

Chiara Berlendi: So, Matteo, let’s move onto Métiers d’Art. Métiers d’Art was created by LMVH to protect and develop access of its fashion houses and also to protect and develop the excellence of their raw materials and savoir-faire. So it plays a key role in the fashion supply chain landscape, especially within LVMH. How does this role influence what Métiers d’Art as a company stands for and its culture, and how does that purpose help you attract and retain talent?

Matteo De Rosa: First of all, as you rightly say, Métiers d’Art is in a holding company that was created in 2015. We do roughly 700 million Euro, with 5,000 people globally. We have around 20 companies that go from leather to metal, to farms, to manufacturing, to innovation. We have a small division in Japan that is there to preserve crafts. Our aim is to preserve. But preserving doesn't mean keeping the companies as they are. We are on a journey to have our companies be relevant today and tomorrow. So we want to innovate; we want to help our companies understand our group; we want to have our manufacturers understand the key points, the key goals, and the necessities of our brands in order to deliver relevant products for today and tomorrow. On this journey, we tend to infuse all the topics that are of importance today. So, traceability, transparency, circularity, sustainability. These are topics that a company that has, I don’t know, an 8 to 10 million Euro turnover, can struggle to face by itself. It’s a very big topic. Together, we can help, and we can create systems that are completely circular and operative in the long run. So, compared to, you know, other business models, we are really in the business of giving continuity to a company by making it relevant for the future without compromising on quality and on excellence. Our aim is to create a system in which two sides of the same coin—but opposite sides—talk. And they see each other, they understand each other, and they optimize, again, in between their diversity, for the common goal to create something greater. So this is really our objective and our goal. 

How do we attract and retain talent? We attract talent because we offer a system that can flourish, which is not only localized. So a young artisan or a young professional can enter our system, or one of companies, enters a family of companies. He [can fish from a big pool of skills] and can benefit from a system of learning. So, compared to being an independent worker, a company can offer that for his talents. And that is why, whenever we acquire a company—we see even in the latest acquisition in Tuscany, for example, in leather, a small company that had an average employee age of more than 50, in only 9 months we are down to 28 years old. We really attract. 

We are attracting also by exposing the products because sometimes, you know, younger generation does not know what it is, this business. They don't know because it's not well exposed because our makers don't have the strengths, the financial resources, the means, the media outlets to tell the stories. What we do is we surface the story globally through narrative, but also through the products that our brands use. So we created even in between the system, inside the system, a sense of proudness that was a bit lacking, you know? The business of manufacturing sometimes is seen as dirty. It's there and anybody can do it, and it’s not very elegant. But that is not true at all. There is great professionalism, huge talents, and amazing craftsmen. So why don't we expose that? But also, we infuse in the staff the proudness of what they do, because that sometimes is lost because they're very far from a consumer. They are always behind the scenes. They never see the sunlight. So, all of these things help us attract companies to come to us and it has made us become sometimes very selective. 

It's a journey that requires mental openness from the founder to be able say, “OK, I do this very well now, but I need to question if I will be able to do this as well tomorrow.” So, being willing to change, being willing to follow a path together, which is not always easy. It really requires a set of skills and we are fortunate enough to have found in all our founders this kind of mentality. The mentality that we are the best in class today, we want to remain so tomorrow, and so we may need to change. We understand the challenge, and we are here together to partner in order to follow that path. 

Chiara Berlendi: You said that you need to be the psychologist or the orchestra director, and that, to be a good CEO of such an entity, you need to put a lot of investment of personal time, of one-to-one time. You gave a lot of concrete examples of how you do this in practice. Is there anything else you want to add in terms of certain behaviors that you, as a CEO, show up with in the day-to-day work, not only with your C-suite leaders but with the larger organization, to make sure that the culture you want to foster is cascading down the organization?

Matteo De Rosa: One practical example is that I give goals to all our teams. I don't question how they achieve it, as long as, of course, there are sustainable practices, you know, that ethics and everything are included. But because we have a diverse team, because we have diverse products, because the nature of each product is so different and each company is seated in a job context that is completely different, it’s not for me to question the practices. It’s for me to give the goal, the key targets, and make sure that everybody is comfortable enough to arrive there in a given amount of time. I never go too deep on how they achieve it or how they want to do it. I give them complete freedom on that. And that helps you in two ways. It helps them to feel and own their target, and, second, helps them to foster and push this change behavior, this change attitude throughout the system. Because everybody owns his own goal; everybody knows the best. You are the best in class today. To be the best in class tomorrow, it’s up to you to find the formula. It's for me to help, but you need to drive it. And this is my role. That's why I chose the metaphor with the orchestra director, because that's exactly what an orchestra director does. He doesn't go there and play the piano for the pianist. He tells him, “OK, this is the melody, this is the timeframe, this is the pace that I want you to go, but then you have to figure it out.” And this is exactly what I do with my team and with the companies.

Chiara Berlendi: There is one last question I would like to ask. You shared about passion, about introspection, about listening to your people. If anyone from Métiers d’Art listens to this podcast—and I'm sure they will—and among them there is someone that aims one day to be in a higher ranking role, aims to be the leader of tomorrow at Métiers d’Art, is there anything else in terms of specific leadership skills and capabilities you believe as of today will be the most important for Métiers d’Art, or maybe for LVMH as a larger group, to possess, to succeed as a leader and help the company reach its strategic goals in the next years?

Matteo De Rosa: You need to be hungry. You need to really want to achieve your goals. You need to be your worst critic. You need to really have it clear in mind what the mission is and what you have a stake. You know, we have the wonderful opportunity to create a new, circular operation throughout the system—transparent, fully traceable, infused with innovation. It's a huge and beautiful opportunity. To do that, you really need to be clear, you really need to be your worst critic, you need to be questioning every day if it's going in the right direction, if you’re balanced in your approach. This is, to me, the biggest advice I could give. But luckily enough my team is all these things. 

Chiara Berlendi: Matteo, thank you for making the time to speak with us today.

Matteo De Rosa: Thank you, Chiara, for having me. It was a great chat.

Thanks for listening to The Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. To make sure you don't miss more future-shaping ideas and conversations, please subscribe to our channel on the podcast app. And if you're listening via Linked In, Twitter, or YouTube, why not share this with your connections? Until next time. 

About the interviewer

Chiara Berlendi (cberlendi@heidrick.com) is a principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ Milan office and a member of the global Consumer Markets and Marketing, Sales & Strategy Officers practices.

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