When I talked to Marco Busari, I just have this amazing sense of joy, even his name, Marco Busari, sparks joy, but who knew that Joy could actually be a leadership principle? It is joy and humility that Marco has brought to Gucci as the new CEO, and he's completely transformed that company, its humanity, and finding joy in little things. That has been his secret. This is a bit of optimism. Thank you so much for doing this, it's such a pleasure to see you, I have to say the pleasure for me.
You know, we've only had the chance to interact a few times, but I have to say, every time I've walked away inspired. You're well known, obviously, in the fashion world because most of your career has been in the fashion world. But to me, you're one of those CEOs, honestly, that deserves to be celebrated everywhere. You're one of those few CEOs that with all of the pressures upon you to make all your short term financial numbers, like so many others, you're so committed to people.
And when you came into Gucci, you came in to a culture of fear. And turned it into this culture of inspiration and empowerment. Please tell me how you did it. I'm so fascinated by this story. You know, I mean, I was lucky in that way because, I mean, I was part of the group already because I started walking and carrying like 15 years ago already. So I knew what was happening in Gucci. It was famous for this kind of a culture of fear authority, but is not what I am.
And I really believe that you cannot pretend to be someone else. So it's like when you do an interview, right. But you try to think what they expect from you and so you try to pretend to be a different person. You can also make it. The problem is that it's not going to lie when you're going to buy. So they are going to be five. So it's better to be yourself from the beginning. Always being very optimistic and very believing in people, cetera, cetera.
And also, first and foremost, I really believe that creativity, especially for fashion, I think overall cannot be fostered in a ambiance of fear.
Let me push back there a little bit, because your industry is big egos.
This is like a lot of creative personality driven industries, you know, could be a chef in a famous restaurant. It's big egos that do operate out of fear and they do have success. Some of these brands were built with these fear environments.
Absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely. I think times have changed as well since the 70s. I believe that that was the norm. They think that they can be creative. People are doing amazing collection because like, they are blessed from God in a way, because I mean, the only way that they can do these kinds of things in reality, you have teams that are amazing people that these people most of the time, they are very, very good. I thought they were incredible, like creative people.
I mean, the creative director is going to work like 10 p.m. and working until 4:00 in the morning asking the team to be present or asking meetings at 9:00 a.m. and then in reality showing up like in the afternoon. So all these kind of things, maybe some some more subtle, something more evident like this one, but something that I don't believe is fair. First and foremost, because, I mean, there's no respect for people. And I've been told by my parents from the beginning to keep respect from people that is going to pay off.
So this is the way in which I wanted to to live my life always.
This is amazing to me, by the way, that people actually got away with this, that you said they they wanted to go to work at 10:00 p.m. and stay till 4:00 a.m. and they made the team come in or call these meetings for the morning and don't show up to the afternoon. Like, how did they even get away with this?
Maybe in this case, you just want to keep your job. You feel that there is no other life than the one that you are living, that you are like in a in a bubble. So I just want to be part of a different situation where I go to work with a smile. That doesn't mean that I'm not asking for results is completely the reverse. I mean, especially in a fashion company to have someone that is exactly like you, feels like you because otherwise doesn't work.
Meaning you need a partner who shares your philosophy of people first. Exactly the same values. Exactly. And I so appreciate that you believe in this idea of partnership, that it's kind of like what you just said before, these creative egos that come in with a gift from God, but even at the CEO level, that it's not one person either. It has to be a partnership.
Absolutely. These are so different, you know, capabilities. I mean, I would never be able to design a dress. So I need to rely on someone else and not these people. They don't have a clue about the processes. And if I find this is such a combination that needs to work together, otherwise there's no way in which a company can be successful or you can be successful is not going to last. Right.
So tell me some of the specific things that you did to change the culture, because I think that's the thing that I find particularly interesting, that you did some very simple but very powerful things. The very, very, very first day when they joined the company, I was used to going to the corridors of duty as a partner of the father coming from other brands in or what I was watching in the corridors, in the meeting rooms or everywhere, both in design and in business offices that are where all these pictures of all the celebrities of the 60s and the 70s, all in black and white.
And I was thinking to myself, but there's no joy. I mean, it's all legacy and no future. And considering this transition that we were living in our water that day was 2015 and I really thought that the world was going into the region was completely different from the past. Sure. I said to myself, what should I do to tell the people in Gucci that we are going to move to the future? Respecting the past, but not right in the past, so and as I say, I should ask all the people across the board in all offices worldwide, we have 500 shops and many buildings in all the regions, sort of geographical region of the world.
The very first day, a nine o'clock Italian time when I entered for the first time in Gurjit, they take out all the pictures of all these people everywhere without telling anybody that what we were doing. You can imagine the kind of impact that this guy is crazy because I respect our past, what if he thinks he's going to be or what he's going to do? But the fact is, I was not going against the past. That actually is the strength of the bread.
But the way would you use it needs to be to talk to people that are relevant today. If you want to keep things out of the yard, you need to change continuously. Yeah, because, I mean, if you want to keep your leadership, you can not think that if you stay as you are, you're going to keep your leadership. You need to continue to change, if you will maintain the leadership. So it's a continuous change that you need to instill in the company to create continuous change.
You need to create a numbers where people are willing to take a risk that are not killed if they make a mistake. And that is the most difficult thing because that foster creativity for sure. On the other side, you need to make sure that the company continues to go in the direction that makes sense. And with a company like ours that we have 20000 people today, I mean, this is the most difficult thing that you need to to fight every single day to make sure that the people are free to express themselves.
So you took all the old black and white pictures of the past with these mostly dead celebrities on the wall, a company that mistook legacy for a museum. You know, it's good to have a legacy, but you don't want to put it in a museum, put it all in formaldehyde and you can't grow. So what did you have put up on the walls instead?
For one year, everything remained the same. So why the corridors? Oh, so you had nothing on the walls for a year? Zero.
Because we wanted to reestablish we wanted to restart the story in fashion. Yeah. To the start of the story, it takes at least 12, 18 months, because from the moment we started the first show to the money, which we had the product in the shops, it takes like seven, eight months. But then we started not to cover all the shop with the product itself because, I mean, we didn't really know if that was successful. So we decided.
To take a risk, but to take a risk like 35 percent of the shops, 40 percent of the shops, and we kept the owners and the others in order to see what was the feedback of the consumers, because the point is that. When you want to change so dramatically, the static, you don't know, you cannot do focus groups because at the beginning everybody was not happy about the collection of Alexander because I mean, there was such a shift, people were a little bit disconnected.
So we felt that was the right choice to do. We felt that was going to be good. But I must say that the most creative people in the industry, I could say about Anna Wintour, our business or fashion or WWT, the people managing, they saw immediately the talent of Alesandro. They were the ones that raised the US that took over Alessandri, Gucci, the consumers. They were more reluctant to accept this.
So this is really interesting in the sort of outside the fashion world, everybody's obsessed with focus groups. You would never take that financial risk to completely throw out the old, put in the new and then just cross your fingers and hope it goes. And you said we just had to trust our feeling.
Exactly. That takes a tremendous amount of courage.
And this kind of courage comes as well. When when you have a situation where you can really see that the business is not going well, the beauty of changing when things goes well is the best. Because, I mean, you can you make a mistake. You don't really care because I mean, you are going to be offset by the rest of the company's going in with many projects in the right direction. But the business of which at that time was going down quite dramatically in the sense that every single day we were at minus 30, minus 35 percent.
I was clearly seeing that the business was going down. And when you fashion, you lose appeal is like you go down from a mountain very, very quick. So there was not even a choice. So, again, you cannot do this dramatically change, dramatically change. You cannot do focus groups.
You're talking about Alessandra McKeller, the creative director of Gucci. Yeah. For something that's about profound turnaround, pivoting, a reinvention, you have to have some sort of guiding principles, some vision, something or other. And that's the thing you're trusting. And that's that's the gut thing.
Yes. How did you resist the pressure?
I mean, there were massive pressures internally. You weren't popular when you showed up.
What I did, especially at the beginning. Maybe that goes a little bit against what you are teaching. But now I do exactly the teaching. So as I say at the beginning, because I needed to make a change very, very quick. I told to all my people, especially to my direct reports, that was not a democracy in the sense that I took the responsibility of the change. You are not going to be responsible. You just follow. Don't question.
Because, I mean, in this kind of changes, if you start asking, you start compromising, then you I mean, the method that is going to come at the end is going to be to do it. So I didn't want that.
Then I started travelling because for the first three months I traveled everywhere. I met six, seven thousand people. Personally at least, I made a presentation of the strategy to everybody because I wanted especially for the Italians to remain in the company. So I needed to show myself personally and to tell people that I was confident on the change and that they needed to know me as well to understand I was not crazy as well, because I was a kind of a possibility.
By the way, that is exactly what I preach. And I went through something very similar when covid hit, we had to pivot and the old ways where we made most of our income from live events, I mean, I could tell you what the numbers looked like. They were pretty steep down.
Right. And so I gave the exact same speech, which is I have a vision. I'm very confident in this vision. This is not up for discussion or debate. This is not a democracy that didn't necessarily say it in those terms. But at the end of the day, I had to rely on the team. I knew I had the vision, but I couldn't implemented by myself. And so just like you did, you went around and you built the confidence in you and your vision that they would support and they would help.
I think what a lot of CEOs mistake, which is having vision and telling people how to do it, are two different things, which, as you said, I have this vision and this is where we're going. OK, how are we going to get there? You asked for buy and you asked for support. You stayed focused on where you were going, the future, as opposed to dictating. I would need you to do this specific thing.
You have no creativity. You have no bandwidth. You have nothing to contribute. Absolutely, exactly. And following up what you're saying, you did that period of crisis, as I did so is exactly this so because you are forced to do something that is different, you have no choice, no choice. And the vision is to be extremely clear. But then the people need to be completely empowered, completely empowered to make it. So they need to have the autonomy to express their creativity at the max.
How did you get like this? How did you become vision focused? People focused, you know, where did you grow up? You grew up. I know you grew up in Italy, but where where did you grow up in Italy?
I grew up in the same house where I still live close to Jamelia with my family. I mean, I was born in the same house where I stay now with my kids and my wife. So and I cabaniss these rules. I mean, I always decided not to move the family despite the fact that I lived like five years in Paris, five years in London, one year in Sydney. So I was commuting when I was there from Monday to Friday, was travelling everywhere and then back always back Friday night and then staying on the weekend.
So the idea of not changing, despite the success, trying not to change your personality, because what I hear it in people that they they become successful or famous or rich or whatever, that they change their behaviour. They all friends are not any more all friends, and they lose completely the reason why they became successful with the reason they became successful, because they had this kind of middle ground and the need to keep that. And this is that are the values that matters.
All the rest is superficial. I don't want my kids to grow in that direction. So that's the reason why I wanted them to stay there, get a little bit of what I was able to learn from my parents.
And what did you learn for parents when you closer with your mother or your father?
I was close with both of them and my mum. I lost my my my mother quite early, but she was fifty five when she died. But I mean, both of them had different characteristics. Their mother was like someone helping everybody. I remember when when a new business started in in this small town Rubiera she was always going there like it's easy to buy a newspaper or to buy meat or whatever with every new business that was happening. She was going there to help the business.
Amazing. I remember when she died, we went to the to the church. I mean, the church was full of people. I mean, the people many people even know she she did everything without telling anybody, helping people. So that showed me a lot in terms of values, in terms of giving back and trying to to remain as I was. And my father was a saint and be very good character, different in terms of characteristic and more in business treated, etc.
. So I think I took a little bit of both of.
And you learned the business from your dad and the humanity from your mother?
Yeah. Yeah, probably. I mean, I was lucky because, I mean, despite the fact that they made my father go to school, a lot of them, because, I mean, at that time in Italy, I mean, it was not as easy to go to school. So they did. They went to the elementary school, both of them, for three years. I was lucky because, I mean, as soon as I started the school, I was always the best.
So I was I had this kind of possibility to to to learn very, very fast. You know, I had the chance to build on that because it was, for me, was very easy to learn things and then to have brothers and sisters to brothers and sisters.
So those only child, only child, very, very powerful.
And can you give me an example, something that you did in your career?
It didn't have to be a commercial success that you loved being a part of and that if everything you did in your career from this point on was like that, if you could do that again, you'd be the happiest person alive.
There was a kind of a turning point, if I think about my my career, I mean, I was not born extremely talented. I was very, very shy from the beginning. Very, very shy. There was a moment that really shaped the future of my career. I think that at the beginning of my career, I started working for 10 years. I was in Accenture. I didn't speak very much English at that time. I mean, I learn English in Italy from school, so I learn grammar.
But I never spoke. So I joined this international company in Bologna and the company and still is, I think, a kind of a University of Chicago close to Chicago, St. Charles. And a certain point I four years I asked my manager say, look, I would like to improve my English, send me to St. Charles to spend like a week and do a kind of a marketing course or whatever is going to be.
So I went there and I really started the week and I didn't understand one single word of the guy speaking. And you America, they treated me like the monkey of the of the bunch. So they give me the information because nobody wanted you on their team. No, no, no.
Oh, so the last that the very last day, I finally understand a little bit of the conversation. So I went to the bathroom and at the same time the teacher came that came to the bathroom as well. And we were standing together. Imagine what we were doing. And I told the teacher, you know what? Today I understood 80 percent of what you said and what you ask that you said to me was, you know what, the most important thing we are in that remaining 20 percent.
So I went back to Italy and I started because I was moving from my little town to Bologna every day by car. So 50 minutes drive going back and forth. I bought all your books possible in English. I started listening all everything that was possible watching movies. After one year, I went to attend the same class, the same teacher. I mean, my English was amazing. And at the end of the seventh day, the guy, the same teacher stood up in front of all the audience say, you know what?
I was so impressed because in one year I met someone that didn't speak a word and now is able to teach to all of you Americans how to put together a sentence that to me gave me the point that you can really do whatever you want if you put a hard war behind. It is not just about talent. Of course, talent is important and 90 percent is about our work and being there and being cast. And then you can overcome all the difficulties, all the missing things that you have in it because you were born in a situation was not ideal, by the way.
So that I apply all of that in everything that of course, I had to as well to to feel better. Because, I mean, do you feel a lot of holes in your personality? You mean your confidence grows?
My confidence grows and grows. And then the reason why I was able to take that risk in good know, because I had all this experience before me in terms of career, in terms of personal terms of family. So I was not nervous at all about the change, because at the very end, first of all, what I said that the very, very beginning, the very first day when I joined Gucci, the very first meeting, I was supposed to give a speech to all the communication teams of Gucci.
So I said to me, like, twenty five people, thirty people, there were five, 500 people waiting for me for the speech. The climate was a disaster. I mean, there was this kind of fear because they were used to have presentation five hours, more or less about numbers while KPIs. And now it's not about emotional duress. So at some point I started my speech and I was watching the faces of OSAT who say, you know what?
Please stop smiling, because I remember you are privileged.
You work in fashion in one of the best, most interesting industries in the world. Creativity can blossom, but we are not saving lives so we can improve lives. But we're not saying that we're not inventing medicine. We don't have penicillin.
So relax, take it easy, take a big breath and then start smiling because we are the world's oldest faces in front of me.
But by the way, that little dose of reality, there is only a few industries that are really essential and important, as you said, medicines or the cure for cancer.
That stuff is important stuff. Yeah, exactly. And as you said, you can improve lives, but you're not saving lives by any stretch of the imagination. And I think sometimes people in business treat their employees as if this is cancer. Yeah, exactly. And the CPI's become like, if we don't hit that, someone's going to die. Exactly.
It's like a war. And least if you talk to many people in the fashion industry, if I tell them we are not saving lives, that's a no no. I mean fashion. I mean, we change the. We take the baby. Yeah, yeah, you allow people to feel more confident because the dress better, of course, but relax. I mean, we have been without fashion for like a thousand of years and the people that we keep on being maybe even after them now.
So, I mean, let's put everything in perspective.
This is such a great little insight. So I'll give you an example. So I. I had the opportunity to eat at 11 Madison Park, which used to be the best restaurant in the world in New York City.
And everybody's so nice and happy and all the servers are just lovely and it's not stuffy. I asked the server, I said, I'm looking around. Everybody's smiling. I said, Do you ever get customers that are not nice? He said, occasionally.
He says usually it's when their assistant booked them some restaurant and they don't know where they're going or they show up and they don't realize that it's a chef's tasting menu and they're upset that they didn't get to choose their own food, then they're a little grumpy. I said, well, what do you do in those circumstances? He said, we may just make them whatever they want. We just make them food. And then he says he sort of paused for a second.
He goes, it's just food.
Who cares? Right. And like, this is one of the best restaurants in the world. And they're just like, it's food. Like we take pride in it. We believe in it. We chose a career in this. But the reality is it's food. And by the way, between Gucci and 11 Madison Park, these are two of the the best brands, the best quality in the world.
And yet both don't take themselves too seriously. I love that. True, tell me, an early specific childhood memory, an early specific happy childhood memory, something that really stands out to you. My childhood would be very happy. I mean, I know I mean, it was a poor family, the one that came up from my mother's side, as you asked me when I was living in this house. I had a friend that was close to me.
We didn't have television. We didn't give heating system anything. So, of course, we were always outside to play football or to to try to make any kind of, you know, silly games as we discover a bunch of eggs. I mean, many, many eggs, fresh eggs. And sometimes we went to the cinema during the theater on Sunday. We said, why we don't do the theater in our house? So we started to throw the eggs in the house in the inside the house to to make it like a movie, like the screen.
So you were throwing eggs against the wall to make a movie screen? To make a movie screen. Exactly.
We were four years old, three years. Four years old and. Then my grandmother that she was following me because I mean, my dad, they were working, she realized that at the end of the crash. So we know, like when other lives were completely trashed in front of the wall. So we started we started running away and we closed my grandmother inside the house and we take out the key.
So I don't know why I remember that. I think is the first time that they say this kind of story in the are alive. But I mean, when you ask me, that is a moment we were laughing like crazy. We were two little kids and we thought that was very funny.
Do you have a sense of what is it about that story? Because you did lots of funny things that that were fun when you were a kid. Do you have a sense of what it is about that story that really that you still think about it? They use that that you still remember it.
I think it's about the fact that I mean, I think that despite the fact that you don't have anything, you can have fun a lot with little things. You don't need to have a lot of money to do it. I mean, how much money do you need to have in your life? And at the very end, you're going to eat three times a day like everybody else. So, I mean, you need to put everything in perspective so you can really I remember the laugh with my friends.
We were laughing like crazy. I mean, if you think about it at the end, what you really need to be happy, simplicity and basic things are the most important.
You have to appreciate the irony that you come from these humble roots. You have this intense humility, this belief in the simple things, and you work at the highest levels of luxury.
It's kind of funny. You have to admit, like you didn't work for some mass market brand, and yet you bring this intense sense of groundedness and humility and gratitude. I just find it so interesting. Thank you. And if you look at what Gucci has done, you know, from the stodgy old Fashion Museum brand, the best way to describe what you have brought to this company is fun. What's so fascinating is what the humility translates. You can work at the highest levels, but what you're bringing is joy and fun and don't take life too seriously.
This is the value of humility.
It's actually translatable everywhere and the gratitude you have from where you came from. I love the fact that you still are in your home, that you grew up in, that you still commute from this little town in Italy. And I guess it's a reminder, right?
You don't want to forget. You fear that if you left, you would become jaded and you would you would forget your roots. Yeah, absolutely.
Every weekend when I go back, I mean, I feel I mean, I go back to talk to my friends that they were doing school with me in the same sense. And I was completely different careers, completely different backgrounds, etc.. But I mean, we keep on talking about the stupid that we were doing when we were kids and playing football and all the rest. And I feel at home and I feel relaxed. I mean, all the adrenaline goes down.
So far, so good. So nice to talk to you. So nice to see I'm such a fan.
I really, really, really I'm really happy to hear that from you. I really appreciate. If you enjoyed this podcast and if you'd like to hear more, please subscribe wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Until then, take care of yourself and take care of each other.