Leading Change

Change-ahead– My perspective on a conversation with the CEO of General Motors

The last few weeks was characterised by a period of confusion and general displeasure, I was in an early mid-life crisis. Arguably, I still am. On the one hand, my dream of creating value in the world is as distant as ever, and on the other, I fully recognise the need for some form of change. I was not happy with where I was and desperately searching for answers. There was an article published some time ago about a holocaust survivor who happens to be a very well respected psychiatrist before being captured by the Nazis, his name was Viktor Frankl. Without delving too deep into his story, I was struck by one of his theories on mans’ search for meaning: Some draw happiness from within, others do so by the act of ‘giving’. These people are most satisfied when the other group is happiest, whether it was contributed to directly or indirectly. With reflection I came to the conclusion that I belong firmly in the latter category. I am most satisfied with myself when I contributed something positive to this world; value creation since then has edged closer to the centre of my meaning of life. But, and here is the big but, I am not currently creating any value! Crucially, I am not engaging in any activity which would assist me towards that goal. Something need to change, something must be done.

One day in March, I chanced upon an ad for an event headed by the CEO of General Motors at London School of Economics. First of all I like to add that I am a sucker for the famous. Couple of years ago whilst inter-railing across Europe, which seems like the thing to do at my age, my friends often joked about my feverish appetite for landmarks which boasts ‘world-famous’ in the travelling guide. I would repeatedly lead them through many narrow alleyways in between getting lost, to arrive at a rather plain looking building before happily exclaiming ‘this is it guys! It’s world- famous!’ In hind sight most of them did turn out mediocre, but I took a photo anyway, they must be famous for something! Continue reading

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Viva Valentino!

Valentino

Valentino, posing in the yard of his workshop

Valentino Garavani, or simply known worldwide as Valentino, is one of the first and foremost haute couturist ever gracing the world of high fashion. His vision, craftsmanship and ideology of what it is to be beautiful, shall always resonate across the hearts of designers for generations to come. You probably have noticed that I am, yes, a big fan of Maison Valentino. Like millions of Apple fans across the globe, our fandom transcends mere physical appreciation. It goes beyond the product into the very being of what it represents, and more so in the case of fashion designers, into the very mind of the creator. Like Steve Jobs, Valentino is a visionary. His designs complement beauty in a woman, but never vice versa. Valentino was quoted during an interview, in his rather charming confidence

‘I know what women wants… they want to be beautiful’

That to me, defines Valentino – simply, beauty. Not outrageous or eccentric, nothing that questions the current philosophy of the beholder, nothing that says Hey, I am different and edgy, if you want to be seen as forward thinking, you should like me no matter what. Valentino is eternal beauty for the sake of the female form. He creates designs that extenuate the beauty of the wearer. Whilst standing out from the rest it is careful not to tread or overshadows its wearer. That’s why I love him, beauty for the love of beauty. I’d like to think the fact that he created wears to compliment its owner as one of the decisive element of his early success. After opening his first atelier in Rome with the generosity of his parents, he soon found himself surrounded with famous women ready to be his muses. Jacqueline Kennedy was famously devoted to Valentino, as is Sophia Lauren, even to this day. These women served as a free posterboard for the young Valentino and his name was soon becoming international. However trouble came at a time when he was really turning heads. With plenty of talent but no business acumen, Valentino ran into financial difficulty very quickly and went bankrupt in the 1960s. It was during these troubled times, the silver lining or better yet, the white knight who would completely transform the fortune and life of young Valentino came. He arrived in the form of an affluent young student – Giancarlo Giammetti. They first met at the fashionable Via Veneto, where Giancarlo declared he had seen Valentino on the cover of a magazine. The relationship soon blossomed, when Valentino went bankrupt Giancarlo stepped in and became a partner in the Valentino company. The business savvy of Giancarlo enabled Valentino to fully focus on what he does best, almost immediately, accolades came and business went from strength to strength.

Couture, Spring/Summer 1965

Couture, Spring/Summer 1965

You may know the red dress which gave the signature redness the name Rosso Valentino. The one that achieved the now legendary ten minute standing ovation at the 1965 Spring/Summer Couture. This dress has become a thing of mythical proportion, and signifies the eternal beauty that embodies his vision. The unique neckline with the ever so simple drape over the top is a thing of immense power and elegance. Subtlety meets power of the colour, creating a dress that can almost be described with anything concerning the beautiful – Sexy, Elegant, Powerful, you name it. One cannot however dwell too much on one dress, for it is cheating the great maestro of his life’s work. They are worn by leading ladies of the world, showcased recently at an exhibition in Somerset House London. There you can see the varieties and evolution of his style. I went on the very last day of the exhibition and was quite taken back by the variety on offer. Admittedly not all of them are to my taste but the matter is they have survived the test of time, which to any great man or women, let alone a fashion designer means everything. Some featured extremely complicated patterns and embroidery which would be nearing impossible to replicate today. Valentino recently celebrated his 45th year in Haute Couture with a magnificent festival in his spiritual home, Rome. Attended by leading men and women in the art industry to celebrate his life and work. Everyone has a sell by date in the fashion industry, but amazingly not him. Valentino is Valentino, for he transcends modes of fashion to side within its core, the very subject of beauty. I remember him saying he cannot be bothered with the changing tides of fashion. He only cares about what feels beautiful. I guess that’s why he is so successful

Beauty itself does not change, but the beholder. I guess he bypassed us all together

In many ways Valentino is a remarkably lucky man. Parents who supported him leaving school at 13 to pursue fashion, as well as leaving his home in Lombardy to Milan at the age of 15 as an apprentice then 3 years later to Paris. They also openly supported his first atelier financially, and later of course there is the partnership with Giancarlo. One cannot stress the importance of this man, without him, according to Matteo the Ex-CEO of Valentino SpA, Valentino would not be a third of what he is today. Giancarlo took care of the business and Valentino’s world so that he can solely pursue his dream. Mr Giametti did everything he could so Valentino can have the fame and recognition he craves, and to remain the child that Valentino is. A very well made documentary following the last few shows of Valentino titled ‘Valentino – The Last Emperor’, which I urge you all to watch, excellently depicts their world. They love each other, that’s for sure. Valentino is happy surrounded with Fame, Recognition and Giancarlo did all he could for him, whilst sacrificing his own. I believe seeing Valentino happy is what made Giancarlo truly happy. When Valentino was made the Legion of Honours in France and specially thanked Giancarlo with tears streaming down his cheeks, you can see the happyness that is thriving within Giancarlo, standing at the back near the door, where you will often find him. What a beautiful sight! What beautiful lovers! I want to thank Valentino for what he created, his vision of beauty that is eternal and beyond the need for change. Mostly importantly, I want to thank him for directing me to my own desires, he helped me realising what beauty I love and amplified my worldly taste. Perhaps that’s his greatest gift to me, a little nudge onto the road of the beautiful. To conclude with a quote from the other great old guard of Haute Couture, Karl Lagerfeld, who gently whispered into the ears of Valentino after his last ever runway show –

‘Compared to us, the rest are making rags’