Robert Polet

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Robert Polet
Born (1955-07-25) July 25, 1955 (age 62)[1]
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Nationality Dutch
Education Nyenrode Business Universiteit, MBA 1976 University of Oregon
Occupation CEO of Gucci Group

Robert Polet (born July 25, 1955) was the former CEO of Gucci Group and prior to that worked as the president of the ice cream and frozen foods division of Unilever.[2][3] A self-described "modern gypsy", he moved frequently from country to country and his international experience was one of the attributes the Gucci owner, PPR, was looking for at Gucci's CEO position. He won the 2007 Fortune European Businessman of the Year award by Fortune Magazine.[4]


Throughout his life, he had moved internationally frequently. He was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1956, went to school in Britain and the Netherlands and was sent by Unilever to Paris, Milan, Hamburg, and Malaysia.[5]

He studied business at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Breukelen and later earned his MBA at the University of Oregon in 1976.[1]

After receiving his MBA, he joined Unilever in 1978 where he worked until 2004 at various positions. He worked in global management, marketing, and was the president of the Malaysia division and later the president of the ice cream and frozen foods division. He joined Gucci in July 2004.[1]

Robert Polet is married and has two daughters, Anne-Christine and Francine.[1]

Management philosophy and style[edit]

Never having been one to adhere to rules and protocols, Polet had on numerous occasions strayed outside the boundaries of established practices and directions given by his superiors. This attitude had helped Unilever pioneer liquid margarine, going forward with his ideas while his boss at the time was reluctant to do so.[5]

Polet credits his experiences at Unilever for helping him grow. He was directed to head operations in Malaysia when he was 35. The situation he faced was grim, laden with problems with stagnating revenues, low profits, and a dysfunctional board. Once, facing a difficult situation, he asked the Unilever head office for advice on how to proceed and was told simply to list his available options and choose the best option. Of the situation, Polet said "It's only by going through tough experiences that you can grow."[5]

He encourages the people working under him to break rules and to go outside the box. He prefers a hands-off managing style and let his employees operate without interference. When he left Unilever, he said that he felt he no longer had the entrepreneurial freedom he required.[5] At Gucci, he left design decisions to the designers of the respective departments, a stark contrast to how previous executives worked.[6]


Robert Polet spent most of his career at Unilever as the president of the ice cream and frozen foods division of the company prior to accepting the CEO position at Gucci. Due to the stark differences between the industries, when Robert Polet took the reins of Gucci in July 2004, he was received with much skepticism and doubt in the fashion industry and was the target of several jokes in the media.[2][5] Many executives in retail in New York City were confused with the choice and have stated that success in the fashion industry is forged by relationships, something that Polet was severely lacking, being an unknown in the industry.[2] Analysts' positions were varied. Some said that bringing someone with no fashion experience was a big mistake while others pointed out that several other companies like The Limited and Abercrombie & Fitch have sought managers from outside the industry with highly successful results.[2]

He was selected by a team at PPR led by its CEO Serge Weinberg to succeed Gucci's former CEO Domenico De Sole after PPR decided not to renew his contract despite rescuing Gucci from bankruptcy in the early 1990s.[2] While the Gucci line has been successful, the nine subsidiary labels the company owns have been doing poorly and have been losing money.[5] Gucci's net income in the fourth quarter of 2003, half a year prior to Polet's hiring, has been solely from its primary line and its growth was less than predicted.[2]

In October following his hiring, he detailed his plans for Gucci in front of hundreds of the top PPR executives in Lisbon. He talked about reorganizing the structure of the company, doubling its size, and increasing profit margins. Per his family-oriented character, when the floor was opened to questions, Polet apologized and left for the airport to catch his daughter's birthday. At this time, skepticism still clouded his hiring and many executives were left disappointed.[5]

He employed his hands-off management philosophies at Gucci and let the designers do their job without executive interference. He also employed some strategies more specific to the situation. Prior to his hiring, Gucci let Tom Ford, the principal designer that turned the Gucci line around, go along with the previous CEO. However, Polet stressed that the Gucci brands should be the primary focus instead of the designer since the brand can far outlive the designer. The designer was to serve the brand and not the other way around. He also moved to assign a business manager and creative manager to each line under Gucci, which allowed more freedom per product line.[6]

Three years later, Gucci's sales and profits grew even faster than Polet's ambitious plans outlined at the convention in Lisbon.[4] All of its lines which were previously losing money became profitable except for Yves Saint Laurent though its losses have been cut by two thirds. The operating profit margin went from 10% to 16% within the three years. PPR's stock which fell on the news of Polet's hiring, rose 50% since until 2008.[5]

However, some critics said that the numbers were residual successes of Polet's predecessors and that Gucci's fashion had declined, which will lead to future losses. Mark Lee, the head of Gucci's flagship line disagreed, and asserted that sales were still surging ahead with new designs.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Fact Box: Robert Polet The Oregonian
  2. ^ a b c d e f Horyn, Cathy (2004-04-22). "For a Chief, Gucci Reaches Into Frozen Foods". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  3. ^ Menkes, Suzy (2004-04-22). "Gucci taps Unilever executive as its chief". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  4. ^ a b "Polet, Gucci Group galvaniser, wins Fortune award". Reuters. 2007-01-09. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gumbel, Peter (2008-01-09). "Gucci Group: The ice cream man cometh". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  6. ^ a b Yang, Jia Lynn (2007-07-18). "Managing top talent at Gucci Group". Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-27.