Is losing talent always bad?
Conventional wisdom might say t hat Marc Jacobs’ recent departure from Louis Vuitton is terrible news for the company. If you look a little more closely at the fashion industry, however, you’ll find that turning over talent isn’t always a bad thing. Prada is a case in point. Between 2000 and 2010, Prada l ost a l ot of designers to competing fashion houses, yet its collections were consistently rated as much more creative than the average. How does that happen? In a recent study co-authored with Frederic Godart and Kim Claes, I found t hat when a designer leaves a fashion house to work for t he competition, he or she tends to stay in touch with friends and former colleagues from the old job. These ties act as communication bridges through which former colleagues can learn what the departed designer is up to in the new job. And when severa l designers leave to work for different f ashion houses, t he colleagues staying behind build bridges to lots of companies. This provides them with a lot of creative input for their future collections.
The phenomenon is not confined to fashion. McKinsey consultants famously stay in touch with former colleagues who have left to work for other firms, most of which are potential customers. The same thing happens in Silicon Valley, where people change jobs across customers and competitors. To be sure, we are not talking about industrial espionage here. The positive effects of communication bridges on creativity come from friends catching up with friends in very general terms about what is going on in their professional lives.
Fashion houses that benefit the most from talent turnover also have longserving creative directors who mentor and befriend the new hires. At Prada, this is Miuccia Prada, who has had a long tenure as the company’s creative director.
Prada, the company, gets infusions of fresh ideas every time it hires a new colleague. Prada, the designer, welcomes and helps train the newcomers. When a designer eventually leaves to work elsewhere, after a fruitful stint at Prada, he remains on good terms with former colleagues, spreading the message throughout the industry that Prada is a great place to work and learn. These positive tendencies are reinforced by a culture of transparency and collaboration in the company.
The messages to the non-fashion world are clear: don’t part with former