Is los­ing tal­ent al­ways bad?

Finweek English Edition - - NEWS - BY AN­DREW SHIP­ILOV

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

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