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Starting afresh gives Swiss manager strength

Chantal Gaemperle is moving family and career to Paris lvmh

Swiss manager Chantal Gaemperle has moved up the corporate ladder, recently taking over human resources at the prestigious French luxury group, LVMH.

This content was published on July 15, 2007 - 10:18

She tells swissinfo about what drives her to take on new challenges when she could sit back and bask in her earlier success with big companies such as Philip Morris and Nestlé.

LVMH – or Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy – is a group with a global reach. Some of its brands are instantly recognisable – Dior or Dom Pérignon to name just two.

The world's biggest luxury firm employs 1,000 people in Switzerland and 65,000 around the world – a human capital in Gaemperle's hands since March.

swissinfo : What made you switch from Nestlé to Louis Vuitton ?

Chantal Gaemperle: The opportunity to take on a new and difficult challenge since I consider that I accomplished everything I set out to do at Nestlé.

In Vevey, I set up a mechanism within the group to identify new talents, simplify management development, ensure a smooth transition in key positions and help make the company more result-oriented.

What attracted me to LVMH was the quality of the people I met when I was recruited. The fact that the human resources sector is also considered vital to the company's strategy and close to the president also caught my interest. In the luxury business, human capital is what makes the difference more than anywhere else.

swissinfo: So what is your function exactly?

C.G.: My job is to come up with a human resources policy that will allow us to attract, keep and develop talent. I also have to build up synergies within the group, bring together its companies, at the same time as respecting their creativity and autonomy.

My challenge is to find the right balance between bringing change to a group that employs 65,000 people and respecting its legacy.

swissinfo: What makes LVMH different from Nestlé from a human resources point of view?

C.G.: It's a different culture. The speed of business, tied to the rhythm of innovation of products, is much faster at Louis Vuitton. The group operates in an extremely competitive sector.

At Nestlé, the company culture is more consensus-driven, based on the long-term outlook. Products and technology are the focus. At LVMH, it is the individual who makes the difference. Our organisation will change to reflect that more.

swissinfo: How do you feel to be a Swiss in one of the top job's at a flagship of the French luxury industry?

C.G.: It's an ace up my sleeve, since I am different but also close [to the French culture] and that allows me to integrate quite easily. I was born in Lausanne, in a country where four languages and four cultures co-exist. This co-existence is Switzerland's strength.

Luxury is also equated with quality, tradition and openness, which are Swiss trademarks.

swissinfo: What inspires you to get up in the morning?

C.G.: I like to get projects and ideas on the right track. I enjoy my work. Human resources is a privileged observation post within an organisation, a place where you work with men and women who guarantee the success of a company. I am really at ease in my job.

swissinfo: Do you ever consider your job from an ethical or moral standpoint?

C.G.: I try to be critical of my own work as well as of the business world. You have stay humble and question your own actions. I identify with the company intensely but I have always been able to keep a certain distance from my work.

Other basic values such as [the value of] family and friends are things I try to teach my children.

I try to keep my feet on the ground. I will fight to succeed in my new job, but not at any cost. I am also flexible, but I will stick to my guns if I think I am right and not back down.

swissinfo: With such a busy job, how do you avoid burning out?

C.G.: I have to commit myself totally. It's a marathon, especially since I am changing industry, country and job at the same time. But if learning and discovering new things entails plenty of work, it's also very stimulating. So in a way it allows me to "nourish" myself.

This adventure is full of uncertainties, but taking the plunge and having to prove myself again gives me strength. In such a demanding world, that could be very useful!

swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson

Key facts

Chantal Gaemperle was born in 1964 and graduated from Lausanne University.
She began her career with Philip Morris before becoming director of human resources for Merrill Lynch in Switzerland.
In 2001, she joined Nestlé, the world's biggest food firm, to become head of corporate management development and sourcing.

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LVMH

The group has a portfolio of over 60 brands. It is active in five different sectors: wines and spirits, fashion and leather goods, perfumes and cosmetics, watches and jewellery as well as what it calls selective retailing.

LVMH owns Swiss watchmakers TAG Heuer and Zenith, and brands such as Kenzo, Marc Jacobs, Dom Pérignon, Glenmorangie and Louis Vuitton.

In 2006, the group recorded sales of €15.3 billion (SFr25.38 billion) and earned €3.17 billion in profit.

Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault owns 47 per cent of the group's shares.

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