Emirates Man sits down with Michael Kliger, Mytheresa CEO, to discuss leadership, taking a customer-centric approach to strategy and innovation in e-commerce.
What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?
I usually get up without the alarm – the excitement of the day naturally wakes me up. I’m lucky that I look forward to each day. I’m not a breakfast person so I usually just have one single or double espresso. That’s it. Then the first thing I do is go online to check my emails and see what the numbers in the business are doing. As Mytheresa is a global business – we have offices in Germany, Shanghai and New York – so we are always on in that sense. If I’m in Munich, I’m in the office by eight o’clock.
How has Mytheresa evolved since it launched in 2006 and what has been the biggest change?
On the first day, they shipped three packages and now we ship thousands a day. So, it’s a completely different company now. Back then it was a very German, European-focused business, we started as a small player but then we started to become much more international. Today, I think it is fair to say we are now the leader in luxury online. Every phase has changed within the company because as you grow bigger, you need infrastructure and processes, and you get a lot of new people with new ways of thinking. I started in 2014 and at that time, 4% of personal luxury transactions were online and now we are at 25%, so it’s not only the company that has changed, the whole world has changed – luxury has changed. Pop culture embraced luxury, so you see younger people wear luxury. Now it’s everywhere. This was unthinkable back then.
What is the VIP experience like at Mytheresa and how do you personalise this?
The most fundamental layer as a VIP is you get priority in customer service, shipping, and exclu-sive access to discounts. Those who fall in the next tier are offered personal shoppers. Then there’s another level that comes with privileges – we invite our clients to intimate events or fashion shows. In the end, it is not about money, it’s about what money-can’t-buy type of experiences.
Do you see buying trends or habits on a global scale with clients and how is this similar or different with Middle Eastern clients?
I think we are clearly in moment where fashion is more timeless. You see this at Loro Piana, it’s all more timeless fabrication. In the Middle East interestingly enough, The Row, Loewe, Loro Piana are all the top brands in the region. I think there is an appreciation here for the highest quality of material. There is also a high need for elevated dressing for all the fantastic events, but the region also loves a comfortable style – so it’s really a combination but no compromise on quality. Of course, accessories and jewellery are over-indexing. Mytheresa also offers luxury kidswear, and this has doubled its size in this region.
What is your approach to leadership and how do you ensure these values filter down through the different departments that you oversee?
The most important thing a leader has to do is to give a sense of direction – and this is not about where people want to go. You need to set direction and once it is defined, that is when you need to trust your people that they will find a way to reach the goal. Direction is so important, and it should not only be the top 20 people that know that. Many meetings could be shorter because you are all working towards the same goal. I think my personal style to be an effective leader is you need to know the details, but you don’t need to manage it. I don’t believe you can manage everything. I have always appreciated leaders that actually know what the business is about or have grown through the ranks.
“There are so many great ideas and so, you need to instill this, “can we measure customer success? Can we explain customer success?” And I think we are good at not making it too complicated.”
How do you ensure each touchpoint is focused on client engagement and retention?
Again, it’s a clear direction setting. There are debates, “Are we a fashion company? Are we a technology company? Are we an operations company?” If someone has a great idea, we ask “What’s in for the customer?” You need to explain it from the customer’s perspective. If the customer has an advantage, then it’s innovation. If not, I mean, there are so many great ideas and so, you need to instill this, “can we measure customer success? Can we explain customer success?” And I think we are good at not making it too complicated. How do we continue to innovate in tech and not get left behind? The customers will tell you. A lot of the things we have introduced into the company over the last eight years were actually ideas from customers. There have been companies that invented something and then started to look for a customer for it. Our mindset is the other way around.
Mytheresa has reported profitable growth in 2022. In a volatile market, how do you ensure Mytheresa is continually set up for success?
The world is volatile indeed and so in a situation like that, you need to be agile and flexible. It’s not easy because people generally prefer certainty, they like to know exactly what will happen next year. Surprisingly, even the CEO does not know what happens next year. It’s an unfortunate truth, but we deal with it constructively. You need to be flexible in your business – your budgets and goals. All we can do is continue to have a high ranking in customer satisfaction. If customer satisfaction slips, even if the profits are up, you know a problem is coming. So, we work hard to stay as good as we can with customers.
How do you support new and emerging brands?
We’re constantly looking for newness however we are not the perfect platform for emerging talents. We are very curated and have only 250 brands. We try to be behind talents, who are not complete unknowns, but we believe will have a great future and a global appeal.
What have been the biggest hurdles and achievements to date?
The biggest challenge of working in a growing company is you constantly have to destroy things in order to build new ones. You always want to be six months ahead of your business in an ideal world. That can be painful as most people don’t like change or don’t want to go to the next level but this is when you learn and grow so much.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Everything today is either black or white – and I think the answer is never black and white. It’s always grey. The answer is more nuanced and calibrated. When people tell you everything is perfect, don’t believe them. It’s never perfect. We tend to be now in an age where it’s either nothing or everything. Not true. You must accept the world is multifaceted.
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Images: Supplied by Mytheresa