Cool and simple is the people strategy for one of the world’s largest eyewear companies, Luxottica. Sarah O’Carroll speaks to CEO, Chris Beer and general manager, human resources, Rhonda Brighton about how they are keeping their eyes on the future
Making things simple is the premise upon which Lux
ottica has built its people strategies.
Imagine, for example, a PDP (professional development
plan) that is only one page long … Or sitting down to com
plete a talent management program that is only the length
of one A4 sheet … Picture a system where company strate
gies are outlined on playing cards instead of detailed in thick
manuals stored on shelves or hidden in complex websites.
Such a system sounds too simple for many managers
and HR departments, but it is working for Luxottica’s
workforce of 6500.
The complex – and often ineffective – bureaucratic sys
tems that pervade modern corporate cultures have been
wiped from Luxottica’s plan.
Global head of HR Nicola Pela says the philosophy of
one of the world’s largest designers, manufacturers and
distributors of prescription frames and sunglasses is straight
forward: think big, start small, act quickly.
The global company, with its headquarters in Milan,
Italy, has managed to whittle down its people processes to
the simplest form.
General manager, human resources, Rhonda Brighton
explains: “We’ve put in a very, very simple set of processes
all based on our five characteristics which are: speed, passion,
imagination, entrepreneurship, and simplicity,” she says.
Speed is one of the most important characteristics in
Luxottica’s working culture. The company’s aim is to do
everything quickly and simply, and, according to Brighton,
this is possible only when you have a simple framework
to work in.
“Structure doesn’t matter to us,” she says. “It’s about
talking to the people you need to talk to, to get your job
Brighton explains that there are only five levels in the
whole company: “the executive team, senior leadership,
managers of managers, managers of people and every
body”. The language used throughout the entire company
also favours the simple approach, with jargon and corpo
rate speak avoided.
“We got rid of acronyms so everything is called what it
actually is. The language within the company is simple,”
One of company’s simplifying tactics was redesigning
some core processes. For example, performance manage
ment processes have been whittled down to one page and
are based simply on managers and employees having a
good conversation about performance. Talent management
guidelines also fill the space of just one page.
“This [procedure] looks at what a person’s potential is
– and what they want to do,” says Brighton. “Linked to that
is a one-page personal development plan and that’s owned
by employees. It’s based on two parts. Firstly what you’re
good at that you can teach people and the second part is
what you’re not very good at but that you need to go for
ward and which other people can teach you.”
Fashion eyewear in a slumped economy
In Australasia, Luxottica’s retail brands include Sunglass
Hut, Laubman and Pank, Budget Eyewear and the largest
optical retailer in the southern hemisphere, OPSM. Col
lectively, it has more than 800 stores in Australia, New
Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa.
Some of their 26 brands include RayBan, Bvlgari,
Burberry, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, Prada,
Oakley, Versace and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Although some might assume that when the economy
slows, so, too, does the purchasing of luxury goods, accord
ing to CEO Chris Beer, that hasn’t been the case.
“Everybody assumes that sunglasses would be the first
area to slip in sales,” says Beer. “In the last quarter of 2007
we started to plan for a downturn and what that might
look like. Intuitively at that time we thought that Sunglass
Hut would potentially be impacted more
than the optical businesses in a slowdown.
However, what we found from our con
sumer focus groups and trends throughout
the world is that a couple of things are
occurring; firstly people are dressing more
casually and secondly people have less dis
Therefore says Beer, looking to Sunglass
Hut and the brands which are on offer such
as Oakley, and luxury brands Chanel, Gucci
and Prada, the entry price points for luxury
goods is pretty much the lowest in goods
such as sunglasses.
“So, if you’re feeling a bit tough about
the world and you don’t want to buy the
latest Prada suit and spend a couple of
thousand, you can buy something smaller,
still have that brand experience – but not
have spent a huge amount of money.”
As consumers tighten their belts there’s
a flight to luxury, he says, and where con
sumers might have been a bit flippant about
a purchase before the downturn, they are
now more selective and will go for a reliable
brand they can relate to.
“These trends have worked well for Sun
glass Hut,” he says.
The cool culture journey
Beer, who took over the business four years
ago, says he had a clear vision of what he
wanted for the company.
“My philosophy comes from ‘culture
drives performance’ and I had a very clear
view of what we wanted to achieve, but we
didn’t have the skills and business to bring
it to life,” he says.
The company then undertook a global
search, and found Brighton – who had been
working overseas for a number of years
and was looking to transition back to Aus
tralia. Beer explained his vision and
Brighton devised a plan of how to get there.
Beer emphasises the importance of the
HR role in driving this culture change.
“When people ask ‘Who you would pick
first on your executive team?’ I say HR,
whereas most CEOs would say the CFO…
Every now and then I give my CFO a hug
so he doesn’t feel lonely or not important,”
According to Brighton, most of the sen
ior leaders in the business have good peo
ple skills and that makes her job a lot easier.
One of the changes the company has
observed since the economic slowdown is
that people want more exposure to senior
leaders, so the last couple of years it has
been doing a number of roadshows where
employees get to meet the executive team.
Another important factor, says Brighton, is ensuring
that people feel they are doing things that matter and things
that will help them do their job instead of having to focus
on unnecessary tasks.
“We’ve stopped doing the [compliance and chain of
reporting] things that didn’t matter to people,” says
Brighton. “It sounds so simple, but that’s because it is.”
As part of her plans, Brighton also decided to imple
ment strategies that were entertaining.
“People like to be part of something fun,” she says.
Creating a fun and cool place to work has worked well
for the eyewear company. For example, Sunglass Hut
employees had to write their own uniform brochure. They
then got stylists, make-up people and photographers in and
had a competition for their next uniform.
“Employees came to Sydney and it is real employees
who are in our uniform brochure -- which basically says
how to look cool,” says Brighton.
“Our recruitment cost in the last 12 months went down
by 30 per cent, and what we found is that people started
to approach us wanting to work for us,” says Brighton.
“There also has been a significant drop in attrition.”
“We are always short of optometrists so we’ve worked
really hard over the past couple of years to build a really
cool community for them to belong to.”