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4 Leadership Tips From Tommy Hilfiger’s CEO

Tommy Hilfiger and PVH Europe CEO Daniel Grieder has been in the fashion industry for over 30 years. Here’s what leaders can learn from him.

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BY Brian Wong - 21 Feb 2019

leadership tips

PHOTO CREDIT: Web summit / CC-BY-2.0

As a young CEO, people often assume that I have a problem with those who are older or more experienced than I am, or that I only care about disruption and think the old way of doing something is worthless.

But actually, one of the best parts of being a young leader is having the opportunity to learn from people who have been doing this far longer than me, while we are in similar positions. I can apply their knowledge in real time, rather than waiting for "someday when I'm in charge."

I recently spent time at the PVH--the global apparel holding company for Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, IZOD and Van Heusen, among others--headquarters with Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe CEO, Daniel Grieder. Grieder has over 30 years of leadership experience in the fashion industry, and had a lot of valuable advice. These are four lessons I learned in my time with him, that are valuable for any CEO.

Don't Be Afraid to Master Something

The story of PVH Europe is an interesting one. Grieder licensed both brands, and grew them to be even bigger than the American brands. Eventually, they got so big that they bought out the American brands. Later, things came full circle, and the American brands bought them out. But that's actually a good thing.

Grieder wasn't afraid to challenge the pre-existing big brands, master what they were doing, and then do it better than them. In a world where established companies or figureheads are constantly competing with newcomers, it's anyone's game; don't be afraid to challenge what (or who) is already out there.

Prioritize Your Employees

When Grieder was designing the office for PVH Europe, he let the designers of the brand stores contribute to the design of the office. The result is a space that everyone feels they've contributed to, one that includes a state of the art gym, cafes, a restaurant and even a grocery store.

Grieder spared no expense to create a work environment that his employees want to spend time in. Of course, this is easier if you're working for a huge, established company with a significant budget. But there are other ways to do this, even on a dime; whenever things are changing, whether it's office design, workflow or something else, open up the floor for employee feedback. You likely won't be able to please everyone, but you can still allow everyone's voice to be heard, for a more democratic environment.

Believe in People

Grieder's corporate culinary master chef, Giorgio, was just an amateur restaurateur when the two met. Grieder was immediately floored by Giorgio's pizzazz and energy--so much so that he decided to bring Giorgio into PVH Europe, full time, to spread his culinary joy to the entire staff. You wouldn't think that a chef and a fashion executive would have much in common, certainly not enough to work together. But Grieder saw something in Giorgio, believed in him and saw that through, and PVH Europe is better for it.

If you are a leader, it's likely that you believe in yourself. But you probably got to where you are because somebody else believed in you, too. Always be on the lookout for people whose energy or work inspires you, even if a professional relationship isn't immediately apparent. You never know what might come of that kind of connection.

Make The Impossible, Possible

Like many other industries, fashion is constantly evolving, and not just what you see on the runways. Recently, Grieder had the idea of digitizing the showrooms of PVH's various brands. The conventional wisdom was that buyers wanted to see and touch the clothes, which made the concept of a digitized showroom scary. But when he showed me the digitized showroom, I was fascinated; even as someone who isn't an expert in fashion, I felt like I could learn so much about the clothes, just from the digitized showroom. I can only imagine how buyers, who have been doing this work for decades, would feel.

At one point, we got to talking about skiing, and I mentioned an upcoming trip. Grieder wanted me to have a Tommy Hilfiger ski suit, but they were sold out, and my size was particularly hard to get. But lo and behold, the next day, there it was: a Tommy ski suit, in my size, just in time for my trip. Grieder quite literally made the impossible, possible.

If we didn't believe in the impossible, we wouldn't have cars, or the internet. If you have an idea that seems unlikely, don't just dismiss it; see what you can do to make it (or something like it) happen. You never know--you might start a revolution.

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