Business challenge

To compete against top brands, new entrants need strong, skilled business leaders. How could this luxury fashion retailer identify and nurture leadership talent to capture a greater market share?


Working with IBM helped the retailer to evaluate leadership talent, pinpointing each individual’s strengths and areas for improvement to drive the business forward.


Up to 14%

higher scores in leadership performance assessments


deep insight into managers’ strengths and areas for improvement


culture of self-improvement and helps the company capture market share

Business challenge story

Taking on the big players of Paris and Milan

In the global fashion market, competition for market share is fierce. To take on the world-renowned fashion houses of Paris and Milan, new market entrants like this luxury European fashion retailer must ensure that managers are equipped with the right skills to foster motivation and productivity among its employees.

A spokesperson for the retailer takes up the story: “Our business has enjoyed rapid growth in recent times. Founded as a small start-up selling jeans, we’re now a fashion house with a global presence, up against French and Italian fashion brands with a long history of dominance in the international fashion market.

“If we’re going to continue that impressive growth trajectory, we need a committed, well-led team in place. Jobs in fashion aren’t typical nine-to-five roles. We experience pressure periods during the year—especially as we run up to unveiling our new collections. That makes strong leadership a critically important part of our business.”

Previously, the retailer had no standard procedures in place to identify, train, and develop leaders. Many staff had risen through the ranks to reach management level. People who previously worked as designers or marketers were now leading departments and faced a new set of challenges, such as motivating staff, long-term planning and delegation.

However, the company had no established program to help them really understand their new tasks and responsibilities—or to improve their skills.

“In the past, we conducted performance reviews with our managers, but this was a very ad hoc and individual approach,” continues the spokesperson. “It meant we were never quite sure if we were focusing on the same set of leadership qualities across the whole business. We wanted to establish a standard set of leadership criteria for assessing our talent, and a common set of goals for all of our managers to work towards.

“If we could foster a culture of reflection and self-awareness among our managers, we could encourage them to continually hone their skills and deliver even greater value to the business. We knew we had the talent—it was just a case of nurturing employees and giving them more direction.”

Thanks to IBM we’re building the well-led workforce we need to deliver lasting success in this ultra-competitive marketplace.

Spokesperson, Luxury fashion retailer

Transformation story

Building a tailored approach to help leaders flourish

The retailer engaged IBM to assess employees in leadership positions and design a program to develop their managerial skills.

“We considered a few possible methods for giving our managers the best chance to grow and develop,” recalls the spokesperson. “We felt a central part of our leadership training should be a focus on our unique business culture—and we wouldn’t achieve this if we sent our leadership candidates to external training courses.

“IBM, on the other hand, was able to provide a far more collaborative approach that really addressed our concerns and responded to our goals. In particular, the IBM team offered the potential to help us adapt best practices to suit our unique company culture.”

The assessments delivered by the IBM team provide in-depth insights into ideal leadership profiles, feedback for managers and the tools for self-improvement. By customizing the assessments to fit the retailer’s specific business needs, the company gained insights tailored to its priorities.

Working with IBM, the fashion house developed a set of four leadership programs aimed at raising standards amongst its management, complemented by ongoing leadership coaching sessions.

To monitor progress in raising leadership standards, the retailer developed structured feedback assessments based on key behavior categories. Once a year, staff deliver feedback and ratings on their managers, scoring them on key leadership competencies such as planning and organizing, team leadership, communication, delegation skills, and leading by example.

“We had an idea of what the best practices for leadership should be before we began working with IBM. Finding that the IBM consultants agreed with our plans for the assessment criteria was hugely reassuring. It was great to know that we had pinpointed the right skills to propel the business forward.”

Results story

Suited and booted for the challenges ahead

The retailer has seen a significant improvement in the quality of leadership amongst its managers. This improvement gives it the organizational strength to continue to take on the top fashion houses of Paris and Milan and to prosper in the exceptionally competitive fashion market.

The spokesperson explains: “The collaboration with the IBM team has been very effective—both for our HR team and our individual managers. IBM took the time to delve deep into our setup and culture, and delivered an approach tailored to our specific goals. The IBM consultant, in particular, brought expertise and tremendous experience on similar projects that has proved invaluable.

“Crucially, we now have a robust feedback structure and development program in place across the whole company.”

In the years since the training scheme was introduced, standards of leadership have risen markedly in core competencies such as planning and organizing, team leadership, delegation skills, and management communication.

The spokesperson continues: “Having a detailed and measurable scale based on staff feedback for candidate assessment is a huge benefit. The HR team and managers themselves can monitor the precise details of their performance, identifying their strengths and, crucially, the areas they need to really focus on to improve. This increased self-awareness is driving standards up.

“We’ve seen scores rise significantly on some leadership competencies. The average score for planning and organizing, for instance, rose by 14 percent over the course of a year. Likewise, we raised scores for leading by example by 13 percent inside twelve months.

“The average scores we’re achieving are really pleasing—and we’re confident they’ll continue to rise even higher. We also have deeper insights into the sort of leadership profile we need to place the right people in the right positions in the future.”

The company now enjoys a healthier, more open working culture. “Across the business we’re seeing expectations rise amongst managers and staff for greater feedback to aid personal development,” says the spokesperson. “Both managers and staff are increasingly interested in receiving advice to help them improve their performance.”

Future plans are also in place to extend the working relationship with IBM. The spokesperson concludes: “If we continue to compete with the fashion giants of Paris and Milan then it’s imperative we make the most of our talent. Thanks to IBM, we’re driving the business forward and building a well-led workforce to deliver long-lasting success in this hugely competitive marketplace.”

Luxury fashion retailer

This company is a luxury fashion house based in Europe, offering men’s and women’s clothing, footwear and accessories. With flagship stores around the world, the company showcases new collections every year at major fashion events.

Solution components

  • Retail: Digital Operations
  • Talent Assessments

Take the next step

To learn more about IBM leadership assessments, please contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website:


View more client stories or learn more about IBM Collaboration and Talent Solutions