• Experienced luxury goods industry veteran who believes in prioritizing people and the human touch.
  • Digitalization is crucial to close the gap between brands and customers.
  • ESSEC graduates will thrive if they see change as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

When Ibaham Math-Ly-Roun started his career with LVMH in 1999, freshly graduated from ESSEC Business School’s Master in Management (MiM) program, Japan was arguably the region’s largest and most sophisticated consumer market. Orders were faxed, and magazine editors were considered the “ultimate tastemakers”.

Today, the Vice President of Retail Strategy and Development for Clarins, Asia-Pacific, operates in a vastly different world: China and South Korea are rising powers in the beauty sphere, brands are racing to adapt to the influx of digital technology, and many are still reeling from the hard knocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet these changes have left the luxury goods veteran unfazed. ”I enjoy the challenge and the need to constantly reinvent yourself. The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself,” he quips.

Viewing Change as an Opportunity and Not an Obstacle

Math-Ly-Roun declares that one must have sufficient curiosity and a growth mindset to conquer the trials and tribulations of change.

He speaks from experience, as it was curiosity that made him take on a scholarship offered by ESSEC and come to Asia as an apprentice at Dior—opening the door for his career to grow in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong, where he worked with brands like Fendi, Kenzo, and even DFS retail group.

It was also curiosity that led him to take up Japanese language lessons while at ESSEC, which turned out to be an advantage as he entered the luxury market when Japan was a market leader.

Today, a similar growth mindset and curiosity are why he embraces digitalization, viewing every investment in technology as an avenue to develop a more comprehensive omnichannel experience that will draw customers into the world of luxury. He also considers conversations between customers and brands—becoming increasingly two-way—as fuel for “unlimited creativity” that will allow brands to better understand what consumers say.

The Unwavering Magic of the Human Touch

No matter how the trends or seasons evolve, he has found one thing to remain unchanged: “Customers must always be treated like a guest in your home.”

Math-Ly-Roun speaks from the experience of someone who has personally experienced the magic of the human touch, propelling his career.

In 2011, for example, he had the opportunity to dine with Rober Miller, one of the founders of DFS and shapers of the travel-retail industry. It was a simple meal at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Okinawa and an unforgettable memory of where Miller shared candidly about his personal journey.

“I was very inspired by his ability to spot opportunities ahead of anyone and how he could build such a successful organization to support that growth,” Math-Ly-Roun reminisces.

In another project, Math-Ly-Roun was part of the team constructing a gigantic luxury shopping mall in one of Macau’s top casinos. The project took four years to complete and involved over 100 luxury brands—the pressure was high, and before the opening ceremony, the team was fine-tuning the display at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Yet, with strong leadership and solid teamwork, the impossible became manageable. He walked away with another story of how the power of human relationships helps one thrive and overcome challenges.

Human connection may be all the more critical today because as the world turns to the digital world to cope with lockdowns and social distancing measures, “human contact is now the new luxury,” he muses.

Undoubtedly, one can procure an abundance of products and services online—but to treat a customer as a guest means that a brand must offer the irreplaceable experience of having someone authentically care for and guide one through the shopping journey.

Develop a Spirit of Openness at ESSEC

Looking back at his time in ESSEC, Math-Ly-Roun notes that the school was a place where he could study under great professors, join enriching student groups, and explore the world, which molded him into the man he is today.

Decades on, he sees the same bold and adventurous ESSEC spirit permeate across the students he meets at career fairs and in the workplace.

“ESSEC graduates combine an excellent academic foundation with unbridled curiosity and passion for exploring the world”—qualities that make them well-equipped to take on the ever-changing business world, he shares.

With his years of experience, he advises graduates to hold firm to these characteristics. After all, if the only constant is change, then triumph is earned by those with the resilience to find comfort in discomfort and the courage to disrupt before the world disrupts for them.