AMA with Tiffany & Co’s John Peterson


Video Transcript

Question 1: What were your main responsibilities at Tiffany & Co.?

I was honored to spend 30 years with the company. My career ranged from starting as a management associate, and basically that was a title held for people they didn’t know what to do with. I was a young professional at the time, the company was just starting to expand and I worked in various departments. I took every opportunity I could throughout my career there. I was then promoted to director of customer services, and then was sent out to Beverly Hills, and I ran the western region as vice president of the western region for Tiffany & Co. helping the expansion out there, based in Beverly Hills. In 1995, I came back and I headed up our direct marketing group. It was a wonderful experience to lead our catalog sales, our trade sales, which is wholesale business, and I was honored to start our first e-commerce business for Tiffany & Co. with a team of very, very wonderful professionals.

After I did that for about eight years, I then was asked to head up worldwide operations, which included things like security, distribution, customer service, call center operations, repair centers, all around the world. A great experience. Soon after that, I picked up manufacturing, and I was also responsible for our manufacturing facilities around the world. When I took over that division, we did about 22% of the product ourselves. We made it through our own Tiffany and company employees. And by the time I finished, we were up to almost 65% of our product was internally produced with a true vertical integration strategy. So I ended my career there three years ago, just about three years ago as senior vice president of worldwide operations and customer services.

Question 2: Will LVMH bring Tiffany to the upper market to compete with more luxury jewelry makers like Van Cleef & Arpels? With better products and higher price.

That’s a great question. As you know from my background, I’ve been retired for almost three years. So I haven’t been privy to a lot of the discussions around LVMH’s plan to lead Tiffany to the next part of their evolution. Tiffany & Co. is a phenomenal American brand, and when I spent my almost 30 years there, that was one of the elements 1. that we were most proud of, and 2. that we used to our advantage. The American brand Tiffany overseas is very powerful in China, in Hong Kong and as you probably know, there’s 35 countries that Tiffany has stores in. It’s going to be interesting what LVMH’s strategy will be as they take Tiffany forward. I think they are great luxury brand makers. I do believe they recognize the power of the Tiffany brand, and I think that they will be very careful in ensuring that the tradition of Tiffany doesn’t get jeopardized.

Question 3: How important has networking been for your career?

Networking is absolutely critical for anyone’s career, and for mine, it was wonderful back to the days of business cards. I kept a triple size business card folder on my desk and managed it regularly. I would say that were people sometimes fail with networking is they tend to reach out when they need something, and what I did with networking is I reached out at people’s special moments in their lives, whether they got a promotion, or their birthday, and in fact, today, I still send birthday wishes to all my former colleagues, people that I worked closely with and had a close relationship with. So networking is critical, but I urge people to always remember: Don’t use it only when you need something. Use it out of the blue because that’s what people really appreciate it and believe that you’re thinking about them in your life.

Question 4: What is the best advice for someone looking to work in the luxury industry?

Those are great questions. I want to thank everybody for the thoughtfulness of the questions. The luxury industry is really just retail, hyped-up. And my advice to young people today is: Grab opportunities when you can. Don’t hope that you can get to the upper echelons of luxury retail very quickly. It’s going to take time. Certainly if you really are destined to become a luxury retailer, you want to keep your mix of job opportunities only in that classification. But I would urge people to keep an open mind, because what you learn about retail and the retail industry is learned at every level.

I started my career with Federated as a stock boy, literally after I graduate from the University of Delaware. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I realized that retail might be a nice fit for me, and I took a job pushing boxes. And so from there I sought every opportunity I could to advance, going from Federated to AMP to FAO Schwarz and then ultimately on to Tiffany & Co.

The secret really is to manage your career but not overlook opportunities. Take any opportunity you get to get your foot in the door. As we know in the luxury industry, many of the jobs are very coveted and sought after. For example, merchandising or marketing at Tiffany & Co. was a job hundreds and hundreds of people wanted, and there were there were limited jobs. So you need to take the job that gets you into a company you’re proud of, proud of the products, proud of the services they provide. And then from there parlay your way toward a position that fits you better.

Question 5: What skills do recent grads need to succeed?

First off, I would say from a technology perspective, you need to be savvy around Excel, PowerPoint, and social media, as we sit here today on social media. That’s the thrust of new marketing approaches, networking. So I would first say: Make sure you have really good technology background, technical skills that can help make you a better business person.

The second thing I would say is interviewing. What’s going to get you in the door is use of technology, use of social media, but once you’re in the door to get a good job, you’re going to need to know how to interview really, really well. So know technology. Be really, really good at interviewing. And then lastly, I would say, know that your written communications are essential. You’ve got to have the ability to write emails, to write memos, to write PowerPoint presentations, and those skills will serve you throughout your career. So writing skills are absolutely critical.
Question 6: What do you wish you knew when you were a college student?

Boy, that’s a tough question. These have been all good questions, and this one’s particularly good, but tough. I would say that I wish that I knew back then in college that you need to take advantage of all the great resources at your disposal. And I think back on my college days here and how I didn’t take any business courses. I was an English and communications major. And I regret that, I regret not really fully utilizing all the great resources at my disposal. This is a fantastic school, from going to listen to the fellow students play music to watching the sports games that are that are all over this campus. It’s a wonderful place and I think if I look back on it now, I wish I knew then that life is about taking advantage of the resources at your disposal. And it’s there’s only one person that can do that, and that’s you. You need to take advantage, and that’s what I wish I did a little better when I was younger man.

Question 7: What are your top tips for interviewing?

You know, I think so often we worry about what questions are going to be asked of us, and that certainly is important, but there are two points I’ll make on this. First, it’s the subtleties. In an interview process, it’s from how you greet the receptionist when you walk into the company’s headquarters. It’s to how you meet the administrator of the person that you’re meeting with. It’s how you shake that person’s hand and look them in the eye. It’s how you sit down, where you sit down, if you are waiting to be invited to sit down. It’s all those little subtleties that the really good interviewer will pick up on. They want to understand you as a person. It’s the smile. It’s the smile that you provoke as well as provide. And I think those are the subtleties we often don’t really watch for and be cognizant of as we go through an interview.

The other thing I would say about the interview process is you have to anticipate, and I think too oftentimes the candidate comes in and really hasn’t done their homework. You have to anticipate questions, as I said earlier, but you need to be ready to understand what is the status of the company at the moment? Are they in good shape? Are they in bad shape? What does the balance sheet look like? What are their financials looking like overall? You need to know who the person is you’re interviewing and anticipate what their personality might be. You need to anticipate what you should dress like. So anticipation through the interview process is absolutely critical. You need to think about every, every element of that step in meeting the company and deciding whether you want to work for them. The other thing I always is just a small aside that I like to provide to people considering the interviewing process is be ready for the difficult questions. Great interviewers will always ask you what you can be better at, what areas, opportunities for improvement do you have. Be ready for those tough questions and have a good solid answer for those. So anticipation across the board is absolutely critical to the process.

Question 8: Do you think I need to go to grad school before finding a full-time job?

Another great question. I think it depends upon your career pursuits to a degree. However, with that said, I would recommend going to work first. And the reason I do that is because, as mature as you are, and as much as you know about where you want to take your career when you graduate college, things change, your desires change, your understanding of industries will change. And so I believe it’s better for a young person coming out of college to go to work, to see what it’s like day to day to work.

The other reason I recommend that is so many businesses today are offering free rides to people. So if you go to work for a company, you do a great job for a couple of years, they’ll pay for your graduate school. And I think, boy, that’s a great opportunity to take advantage of, another opportunity. So I really recommend young people coming out of school, undergraduate school, to think hard about jumping right into graduate school. Now with that said, I have a daughter who just graduated and went right into grad school. Her line of work is public health, and unfortunately in that industry, you really need to have your graduate degree to move forward in the industry. I’m now trying to convince her not to go directly for her Ph.D. after grad school, but we’ll see if I win that one or not. No, I would recommend getting your feet wet, getting some experience of the business world, hopefully getting the business you go to work for to pay for your grad school, and ensure that this is the field you want to be in long term.

Question 9: How does Tiffany & Co. prevent counterfeit design and sales?

Counterfeiting certainly has been, and is today, a true concern for Tiffany & Co. and for many businesses around the world. Tiffany & Co. approached the fight against counterfeiting through multi disciplines. We work very closely with our global protection team and our legal team and with our retailers. The approach we took was threefold: One, we looked hard at manufacturers. Who was manufacturing the product? That, while we spent money and made efforts to shut down illegal manufacturing, that was a tough process because you needed local government support to try and do so.

The second bucket of opportunities to fight counterfeiting was within the reseller, the person that’s buying from the manufacturer and reselling. That was our biggest opportunity where we put our greatest effort for shutting down online sales, working with local resources to find any physical sale, whether it was a store or catalogs, and shut those down.

The third area that we often looked at was approaching the consumer, making the consumer aware of potential purchase of counterfeit. The question is always asked: Did they know it was counterfeit, and were they okay with that? And that could be the case in many situations. However, some people were buying counterfeiting unbeknownst them, and it can be dangerous, can have high levels of lead or cadmium, heavy metals as we call them, or could be a dangerous environment in which the product was made. So that three-prong approach: legal, global protections and then our retailers, who were our eyes and ears, they knew where that product was being sold, all work together to approach those three elements, the manufacturer, the consumer and the reseller.

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