The Business of Luxury
Behind the Scenes with Flavia Spena of Bulgari SPA
by Amy Heibel
Name: Flavia Spena
Title: Chief Financial and Organization Officer,
Exective Vice President
Firm: Bulgari SPA
MBA: SDA Bocconi School of Management
Growing up, Flavia Spena knew she was attracted to numbers and business rationale, but she also found herself drawn to charitable work. As a young woman, still at university, she banded together with a group of friends to create a foster home for children who couldn’t remain with their families. For ten years, she and her friends co-parented kids in need; Flavia is still in touch with many of them today. “We have to leave the world better than as we found it,” she says.
Whether as a young foster parent, or in her current role as a top executive in the luxury brands industry, Flavia excels at organizing people, and helping align them with opportunity. She is Chief Financial and Organization Officer and Executive Vice President for BulgariSpA, the Italian luxury goods company recently acquired by LVMH.In her present role, Flavia prides herself on providing clear frameworks and strategic direction for all aspects of Bulgari. “I try to be very clear about objectives,” she says. “I create interaction amongst different business units so that they can work together for the organization in a coordinated way. I spend a substantial part of every day on people and problem-solving.”
Flavia studied economics and organizational structure at university. In her first job after graduation, she worked for a company that builds and manages highways, in the human resources division, where she contributed to business process development. That interest led her to an MBA program at SDA Bocconi Business School. “I wanted to add to my knowledge and my competencies, to achieve a higher level of management,” she explains. “It was a great experience. It’s not about what you learn in terms of technical knowledge, but what you learn about yourself that matters. The MBA allows you to grow, to understand your ability to manage a business.”
This year, Bulgari introduced a unique partnership with Flavia’s alma mater, SDA Bocconi School of Management, offering a specialized track for MBA students interested in the luxury business. Twenty MBA students at Bocconi will gain the managerial competencies required today in the business of luxury goods and services through three months of lessons at the Bulgari headquarters in Rome and a two-month in-company project in an international branch of the Bulgari Group or in a branch of other companies of the luxury sector. “The program provides tools for people interested in management positions in the luxury business,” she explains.
Not surprising for a company known as the favorite jeweler to stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Bulgari recognizes that the demands of luxury brand marketing and management differ from conventional business wisdom. “Quality, service and a personalized relationship with clients are hallmarks of the luxury business. What you sell is very limited in terms of the number of products, and service must be of an unusually high quality. Traditional metrics aren’t applicable.”
Despite her glamorous career, Flavia stays grounded with commitments to various charitable organizations. She says there is an unexpected connection between her ongoing charitable work and her professional life. “It’s all about people, about respecting people and recognizing their potential,” she says. She also believes that being involved in making the world a better place leads to strong values and an ethic of mutual respect that is important in business. “People who demonstrate strong personal values are more fair with others, more open in the work environment,” she says.
For those interested in following in Flavia’s footsteps, she advises really understanding one’s personal traits. “People should evaluate their personal skills. An MBA program helps you to identify what you are good at, and it places you amongst colleagues who are highly competent, who can push you to excel.” The pursuit of personal excellence continues to compel Flavia; “I never refuse change,” she says. “I always take the challenge.“
- By Amy Heibel
Amy Heibel is a media producer and president of Here Now Communications