I received an invitation to preview “Hearts and Crafts,” the Hermes film that tells the story of those who work hard to manufacture the beloved Hermès products the well-heeled eagerly wait years to acquire. After viewing this film, Hermès has now, for me, become the epitome of a great brand for which all others should aspire.
I can already hear a million declarations around the world of “mais bien sûr!” upon reading that last sentence.
I’m well aware of Hermès’ battle with Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, attempts to takeover (or as he sees it – being a “friendly” long-term shareholder of) the Hermès family business. In its presentation of the Hermès manufacturing family, this film clearly shows why Mr. Arnault should want to acquire such a distinguished company. At the same time, the film also demonstrates why Hermès must remain independent.
No conglomerate can sustain the type of employee morale that Hermès clearly has with its manufacturing team – a morale that is the very foundation of the company’s greatness.
And despite Mr. Arnault’s position that “LVMH is aiming to be a supportive long-term shareholder of Hermès, and wants to contribute to the preservation of the group’s Frenchness and its family-firm attributes,” the road to corporate greed in the form of profits over heritage is paved with similar promises from corporations who aggressively takeover unwilling family businesses.
And quite frankly, Mr. Arnault’s reputation precedes him.
In his long history of aggressive takeovers, including that of his prized trophy LVMH, Mr. Arnault never hesitates to fire entire teams that have been with the acquired company for years. These actions, although often profitable, also meant fine details in production and packaging that earned once family-owned businesses devotion from discriminating customers becomes abolished with the original team’s departure. Meticulous handcraftsmanship by artisans who cut their teeth through years within the company are replaced by highly automated factories, run by managers with career backgrounds ranging from tire making to cell phone manufacturing.
For Hermès, this is not the way to do business. As affirmed by Hermès CEO Patrick Thomas in the beginning of this battle:
“There is a part of our world that is playing on abundance, on glitz and glamour. And there is another part that is concentrated on refinement, and basically making beautiful objects. We don’t want to be a part of this financial world which is ruining companies and dealing with people like they are goods or raw materials. It’s not a financial fight, because we would lose that. It’s a cultural fight.”
And it is, in fact, this cultural fight embodied in the hearts of the Hermès team that makes Hermès’ 37% increase in profits for the first half of 2011 attributable to its culture and its employees.
Throughout the film, we’re introduced to several team members, some just starting and some who’ve been with the company for decades.
We meet Michaël, the former soprano who now conducts a symphony with the Hermès leather he cuts and crafts; Michel, the jeweler who doubles as an artist, with precious metals as his brush and a regard for the desires of the Hermès customer as his metaphorical canvas; Ali, the hearing impaired polisher whose celebrated triumph against multiple obstacles is reflected back to him in the metals he joyfully polishes; and Delphine, granddaughter of a silk painter, who follows her family heritage by designing the colorful Hermès scarves that add a finishing touch to the immaculately dressed woman.
Of the many we meet through this journey, one unnamed member stood out most with a simple and pure confession that speaks to Hermès’ most important asset.
“I do my best from start to finish. I’ve learned a lot and still do. I’m still learning after 40 years. I’m 58. I get up every morning. I don’t like having to do it, but I do love going to work. Here in the workshop, I think we all agree that we love our jobs and try to do our very best.”
Take a moment to consider this statement.
But first, consider those who would rather stay up late than arise early to begin work; those who would rather daydream about working at a different company than focus on the task before them; and those who discreetly sabotage their present employer because they’re afraid to pursue their preferred career.
Now consider those who say “I really hate waking up early in the morning, but I love going to work”, and think about how this love is expressed in their work.
Passion is the greatest motivator. Those who have it for their profession will painstakingly ensure that every responsibility for which they’re charged is completed with utmost perfection. Their employment becomes less about salary and more about the pride they feel for the work they produce.
It is this pride we sense in Hermès products that motivates us as customers to add just one more scarf to our already overwhelming collection. And it is this same pride we borrow when we’re complimented by strangers on our Hermès possessions.
To all who would seek advice on how to create a valuable brand – start with making your employees feel valued.
Their sentiment will be shown in the impeccable work they produce as they appreciate the importance of their role in the overall vitality of the company. These impeccable products will then lure customers who are enamored by the craftsmanship, and begin to trust in the lasting quality of all of your merchandise. Once such trust is gained, loyalty follows – the type of loyalty that can sustain a brand through even the worst recession.
As for Mr. Arnault, after viewing this film, I certainly understand why he wants to possess Hermès. But I wonder if he understands Hermès’ mystique is rooted in the people he would most likely terminate upon acquisition.
Although no one can deny the success of Louis Vuittion, Christian Dior, Tag Heuer and others under the LVMH umbrella, there’s more than one way to make a profit. And Hermès masterfully uses that alternate strategy.