February 10, 2019

Pioneering flexibility and empowerment in retail

Veronica Prat van Thiel homes in on improving client and staff experience


    • Name: Veronica Prat van Thiel
    • Title: President & CEO, Cartier Japan
    • URL: https://www.cartier.jp/
    • DoB: Sept. 26, 1972
    • Hometown: Barcelona, Amsterdam
    • Years in Japan: 4

    Cartier Japan President and CEO Veronica Prat van Thiel and her team are testing the boundaries of the retail experience. To Prat van Thiel, luxury means more than purchasing one of the esteemed maison’s high-quality jewelry pieces, timeless wristwatches or leather goods.

    “As a leader of contemporary luxury, we’ve always been pioneering, and daring, to try new things to create style,” she said at Cartier Japan’s Tokyo headquarters.

    These bold endeavors include a pioneering six-day event at the Kyoto National Museum in 2015 to showcase Cartier Royal, a high jewelry collection; watches; and Cartier Tradition products comprising vintage pieces, 100-year-old creations demonstrating Cartier’s pioneering spirit through time.

    “When I arrived (in 2014) people were saying there was no potential for high jewelry in Japan. Everybody said that. Yet, we created the event in Kyoto in 2015, and we had great success,” she said.

    Cartier Royal was effectively a stepping stone for more ambitious high jewelry events, providing “a mindset change and a shift (in how we approach our clients) not only for us, but for the luxury market and for the department stores, who realized the great potential of the market.”

    The launch of the gem-studded Cartier Magicien collection exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum in 2017 is another notable pursuit. Others include the “Tankotheque” pop-up gallery at Cartier’s modular boutique in Roppongi Hills that featured art by former SMAP member Shingo Katori and celebrated 100 years of one of the Cartier maison’s most iconic watch collections, the Tank watch.

    Inspired by her time when she first visited Japan while working on a bespoke campaign for Cartier in 2004, and visiting Kyoto in winter, she had a “spiritual, magical” and zen-like experience at Ryoanji Temple. Prat van Thiel cites the development of the Roppongi boutique as pivotal to how the maison wants to deliver extraordinary moments that transcend the shopping experience.

    “It was very specialized, ultramodular. A permanent pop-up. It was created in such a way that it can be transformed in a single night and day so that we can completely change it and cater to very different concepts,” she said. “It was key for us to do that; we wanted to make sure that we could give our clients not just transactions, but an experience.”

    While the firm’s innovative approach toward retail seems to be working, Prat van Thiel recognizes structural issues in the Japanese market, such as the aging population and declining birthrate as specific challenges. “I believe women have such a key role to play,” she said, speaking of solutions. “Gender equality is so important for the future of Japan, not only for Cartier but for society and Japan itself.”

    Women make up about 72 percent of the Cartier Japan workforce. Prat van Thiel is focused on addressing issues for all staff, irrespective of gender, such as super-flextime, elderly care allowances, parental leave, programs for ambitious staffers, pathways to move across different divisions within the company, temporary transfers, and exchange and experience programs both locally and overseas. While many of these programs were easily implemented within the management and office divisions, the challenge is also how to benefit retail staff.

    “Some of our staff had been in the same boutique for 15 years,” she said, discussing temporary transfers. “It was amazing for them to move to another city, another environment, and to open their eyes to something different and new. I think this experience gave them a different perspective and allowed them to come back stronger, sharing best practice.”

    Two new programs are also being trialed. One is an individually tailored concierge service for staff, run in conjunction with a female entrepreneur. “(A staffer may need) someone to accompany her older mother and help with the shopping; another worker may want care for her kids on specific days or during evening shifts.” The second program is a floating task force that rotates among boutiques during times of need.

    “It gave me a deep understanding of our boutique teams and what they face every day. It gave me not only legitimacy, I think it has allowed me to make better decisions … in times of implementing new policies or actions for improved work-life balance and diversity,” said Prat van Thiel.

    She went on to say that she believes the government is willing and trying to change the situation for women, but policies such as the spousal tax deduction have a contradictory effect. In times of change, Prat van Thiel believes these women are the first ones to go — something that makes their economic situation fragile.

    Outside the company, Prat van Thiel wants to see more Japanese women involved in the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, which provides support for women entrepreneurs to find affordable and sustainable solutions to environmental, health, education, agricultural or information technology issues.

    “I feel a sense of responsibility to speak and raise awareness of this topic, particularly in Japan,” she said.

    The low number of Japanese women applying for the awards — “Only four in the first year I was here,” — both dismayed and galvanized Prat van Thiel.

    “We’ve created a three-year, local initiative called ‘Cartier Empowers Women’ to not only raise awareness, but also (support the women applying for the awards),” she said, noting the 46 initiative applicants so far in 2019. Part of the process involves networking managers from other companies and with peers to promote women’s empowerment throughout Japan.

    “The objective is really to contribute to society. I believe that the more we are, the stronger and greater impact we can make,” Prat van Thiel said.

    Successful managing across various roles

    A graduate of the ESCP Europe management school in Paris, Veronica Prat van Thiel’s time at Cartier spans approximately 18 years. She joined the esteemed maison in 2000 and was soon appointed supply chain organization and development manager, in charge of new business model implementation at Cartier International. A role as customer relationship manager followed, focusing on client database consolidation, loyalty and acquisition programs and establishing client relation centers across major regions. She then moved into retail, working in the Printemps boutique in Paris before heading to London as retail director of Cartier U.K. In 2014, she relocated to Tokyo as retail director of Cartier Japan to implement new strategies and work on major high-profile events. She assumed her current role in 2017.

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