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MBA Programs and the Business of Luxury

Despite uncertain times, a luxury MBA may come in handy now. Paris-based Mimosa Spencer of the Dow Jones Newswires reports that U.S. and European luxury goods sales have recuperated from the blow suffered after the fall of global financial services firm Lehman Brothers and the advent of the financial and economic crises. For instance, Spencer points out:

  • Swiss Richemont, owner of Cartier, British Burberry and French Hermès, reported more than a 25 percent increase in sales in the last quarter of 2010.
  • French LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) revenue grew 14 percent in the United States and 12 percent in Europe in 2010.
  • Luxury goods sales in the United States remain "firmly in positive territory," while sales at upscale French department store Printemps are growing in "the high single digits."
  • Chinese luxury goods consumption--expected to account for most industry sales in as little as five years--remains strong both locally and abroad.
  • Luxury good sales are expected to grow at least five percent in the early part of 2011, despite price increases.

In the midst of the economic crisis, Chicago patent lawyer Rupal Patel took a break from her job to enroll in a luxury MBA program at the International University of Monaco, because she's interested in developing a career in counterfeit prevention. "The ultra-wealthy will always buy luxury goods, regardless of the fluctuations in the economy, so that kind of gives us some hope," explains Patel in a Bloomberg Businessweek interview. Patel is now at Christie's in New York, according to her LinkedIn profile.

MBA programs: The luxury MBA

Some global business schools students travel to Europe to pursue their luxury MBA programs. Several MBA programs in Italy, France and Monaco are already recognized for their offerings in this area.

SDA Bocconi, the School of Management of Università Bocconi in Milan, has joined forces with Bulgari to offer a luxury MBA, including three months of lessons at Bulgari headquarters in Rome and two months of practical experience in an international luxury goods store. "I am sure that for both the company and the participants it will prove to be a valuable opportunity for exchange and for personal and professional growth," says Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani in a press release.

ESSEC Business School has been offering a luxury MBA since 1995, and today the Parisian school has a long list of luxury goods partner and contributor companies. ESSEC luxury MBA students have interned at Chanel, Chloé and Louis Vuitton. In her Financial Times blog, ESSEC luxury MBA student Lidija Pehak Kolenko from Croatia gushes about a business school field trip: "One of the visits took us to a luxury bag and trunkmaker and we were able to watch the amazing process of making leather bags and trunks."

EMLYON Business School offers its business school students a master of science in luxury management and marketing, split between France, Switzerland and China. In 2009, LVMH granted EMLYON luxury student Audrey Gaffet what she describes in the school's website as a "once-in-a-life dream opportunity": a scholarship to investigate challenges and opportunities for the luxury goods industry in Asia. A native of France, Gaffet currently works in marketing at Lancôme in Paris, according to her LinkedIn profile.

International University of Monaco trains students passionate about luxury, such as attorney Patel and Canadian Alexis Chapman, who completed her luxury MBA at the school in 2006. Chapman has worked in London at The Walpole, a nonprofit furthering the interests of the British luxury industry, including Burberry, Jimmy Choo and Rolls-Royce. "I was able to step into the role as senior membership and events executive with confidence and skills from my IUM experience," Chapman says on the school's website.

HEC Paris offers an executive luxury MBA in Paris and Milan for proven luxury brand managers. "Luxury Groups now aim at the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) for their growth rates which are the best indicators of high prospects for luxury business," HEC Paris explains on the executive luxury MBA online description. "Luxury has received the interest of many corporations who see in 'premiumization' a profitable strategy and of governments who realize the exportability of the Luxury sector."

The Parisian school--ranked number one among European business schools on the Financial Times--doesn't mince words: "HEC Paris is the most legitimate business school in the world for the academic advancement of luxury considering the number of luxury company CEOs among its alumni." Among these alumni is François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of PPR, owner of the Gucci Group.