I received an invitation to preview the Hermès film “Hearts and Crafts” on their site. The film tells the story of the many who work hard to manufacture our beloved Hermès products. I’m not too fond of watching anything on my laptop since an honest effort to pay attention always turns into a multitasking campaign, as I simultaneously listen to (instead of watch), while checking emails and doing my weekly research into the affairs of the grand world of luxury. This film, however, made me stop, look and listen. Perhaps it’s because I’m now learning French and am always looking for opportunities to practice my listening (the film is entirely in French with subtitles), or more likely, because the film’s message resonated dramatically to me as someone who advises companies on how to build great luxury brands. Hermès has now, for me, become the epitome of a luxury company for which all others should be compared.
I can already hear a million declarations around the world of “mais bien sûr!” upon reading that last sentence. I am certainly well aware of Hermès’ battle with Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, in his attempts to takeover (or as he sees it – being a “friendly” long-term shareholder of) the Hermès family business. In its presentation of the Hermès manufacturing family, this film clearly shows why Mr. Arnault should want to acquire such a distinguished company. At the same time, the film also demonstrates why Hermès must remain independent.
No conglomerate can sustain the type of employee morale that Hermès clearly has with its manufacturing team. And despite Mr. Arnault’s position that “LVMH is aiming to be a supportive long-term shareholder of Hermès, and wants to contribute to the preservation of the group’s Frenchness and its family-firm attributes” , the road to corporate greed in the form of profits over heritage is paved with similar promises from corporations who aggressively takeover unwilling family businesses.
This, of course, affirms what Hermès CEO Patrick Thomas has said from the beginning:
There is a part of our world that is playing on abundance, on glitz and glamour. And there is another part that is concentrated on refinement, and basically making beautiful objects. We don’t want to be a part of this financial world which is ruining companies and dealing with people like they are goods or raw materials. It’s not a financial fight, because we would lose that. It’s a cultural fight.
And it is, in fact, this cultural fight embodied in the hearts of the Hermès team that makes Hermès the type of company any budding luxury brand should seek to ascend.
Throughout the film, we’re introduced to several team members, some just starting and some who’ve been with the company for many, many years. We meet Michaël, the former soprano who now conducts a symphony with the Hermès leather he cuts and crafts; Michel, the jeweler who doubles as an artist, with precious metals as his brush and a regard for the desires of the Hermès customer as his metaphorical canvas; Ali, the hearing impaired polisher whose celebrated triumph against multiple obstacles is reflected back to him in the metals he joyfully polishes; and Delphine, granddaughter of a silk painter, who follows her family heritage by designing the colorful Hermès scarves adored by all.
Of the many we meet throughout this journey into the heart of Hermès, one unnamed member stood out most with a simple and pure confession that speaks to what make Hermès an exceptional company.
I do my best from start to finish. I’ve learned a lot and still do. I’m still learning after 40 years. I’m 58. I get up every morning. I don’t like having to do it, but I do love going to work. Here in the workshop, I think we all agree that we love our jobs and try to do our very best.
Take a moment to consider this statement. But first, consider those who would rather stay up until 4am than arise at 9am to begin work; those who would rather daydream about working at a different company than focus on the task before them; and those who discreetly sabotage their present employer because they’re afraid to pursue their preferred career. Now consider those who would say “I really hate waking up early in the morning, but I love going to work”, and think about how they express this love in their work.
Passion is the greatest motivator. And those who have it for their profession will painstakingly ensure that every responsibility for which they are charged is completed with utmost perfection; their employment becomes less about salary and more about the pride they feel within themselves for the work they produce. It is this pride we sense in Hermès products that motivates us as customers to add just one more scarf to our already overwhelming collection. And it is this same pride we borrow when we’re complimented by strangers on our Hermès possessions.
Show me a company that has such a passionate manufacturing team as is witnessed in this film and you have identified a true luxury company that offers a very sound financial investment, both in the products we buy and the shares available in the company.
To all who would seek advice on how to create a great luxury brand – start with making your employees feel great. Their sentiment will be shown in the impeccable work they produce. That production lures customers who sense a pride in your craftsmanship, and thus begin to trust in the lasting quality of your merchandise. Thereafter, they come to believe that your company is great.
As for Mr. Arnault, after viewing this film, I certainly understand why he wants to possess Hermès. However, there are some things in this world that should only be admired from afar. For in our possession, that thing loses the luster which drew us to it in the first place.