We’re joined by Shane Younger, Head of Finance and Operations for Gucci (Watches and Jewellery), who gives us a glimpse into his professional journey throughout some of the biggest and most prominent fashion brands in the world, including Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane. Beyond his fabulous wardrobe and impeccable expertise in finance, Shane brings in a discussion around success in a sense of ‘self’. How did the Head of Finance and Operations for Gucci manage to find his own inner peace on his journey to success, you ask? Continue reading or click on the video for the full interview.
Could you kick us off by telling us a bit about yourself and your professional journey to the present?
My current position is the Head of Finance and Operations for Gucci. I specifically look after what they call ‘hard luxury’, which is the watches and jewellery side of the business, and I take care of the UK and Northern Europe. I have approximately twenty-plus years in the fashion side, mostly luxury, but all sectors of the fashion industry from off-price to high street.
I started my career in around 1996, aged twenty-four and had just come back from India. And I’ll go into that a bit more because I’m a big advocate of recommending that people take some time off when they finish their studies, because I think that one of the things, that has helped me to do well in my career, is broaden my horizons and meet people. And it gives you a good platform, because the corporate world does reflect on the outside world too, to a degree, and the more well-prepared you are in the outside world, I think is a big positive indicator in the corporate world as well. So, I decided to take a year out and went to India and reflected on what I really wanted to do. When I came back, I decided to further my degree with a professional qualification.
My first job was in the record business, in the music industry. This role gave me a little clue into what my strengths were and learning how to harness them. My biggest lesson here was: don’t try to be the jack of all trades. You do it (to an extent) at the beginning to find out what you want to pursue, but then focus on what you’re good at and seek connections and opportunities. I left after a while and became a Management Accountant, where I built a strong knowledge of the fundamentals of the sector. My role was to streamline the finances because so much money was going to waste. I learned that when a company is doing well, people forget about what they’re spending because they’re riding the wave of success. However, if the success doesn’t continue, the money will deplete and you end up having all these costs to still pay. So, my job was to make sure that we were making a good margin on the products, and work with designers to manage the costs of samples and production.
I was there for almost five years through phenomenal growth, and I was twenty-seven in a very senior position. I was like the Finance Controller and I had exposure to the most senior levels in the business and was fortunate to travel to India, Romania, Poland, Turkey, and beyond. I’d say that was the biggest milestone where there were real results. Later I worked for Rio de Valencia and Stella McCartney, extremely high-profiled brands. I went to work at Stella McCartney as the Worldwide Financial Controller. Again, a company that went from fifty million to two hundred and fifty million in five years. And eventually, it led to my role at Gucci where I am now!
I hope that my career journey shows that if you’ve got the desire and the interest and virtue to remain honest, courageous and humble, you can go so far in life because people want to work with you. And it’s like anything – your entourage, your friends, anything; if people want to work with you, this is what you’ll get.
What’s a day in the life of the Head of Finance and Operations for Gucci like?
So, there’s a strategic part where we’re doing investments in a store or along those lines. I’ll have to create a model that puts the finances together. And these are more long-term things that could take anything from two to six months. During this time, we need to ensure what we are, what our customers want and what we’re backing, because we are very much driven by what the designers have for us.
And then we have a more operational side of things. And that’s where I use communications skills to make sure everyone involved in that chain is on form. And, you know, if they’re not on point, then you just need to hold your hand up and tell it like it is. Bad news is better than no news, which will become worse if not managed. I have around twenty-five people reporting to me, but I have three main streams under me, which is on the financial and operational side. A lot of my time is spent ensuring that communication always flows very clearly through the team; and a few hours of my day will be focused on speaking to people, whether they report to me or not, to ensure that things are clear and honest.
The other part of my job is to monitor things that are going on. This includes closing the month from the financial side; it can be on a quarterly basis or a yearly basis as well. And we must project into the future – where we think we’re going to be. It’s a dynamic industry and role. So, my day changes regularly, which I think is a great thing. But if you’re someone who wants a more predictable life, it possibly isn’t the sector for you.
With around 20 years of experience, how do you stay on top of the evolution of commerce and finance?
It helps to have curiosity and an interest in what’s going on in the world anyway. I read the Economist, for example, but I don’t think you have to subscribe to certain things to make you better. However, you just must have your antennae pointed outwards, ready to learn and have things on your radar.
We see so much change in my sector and role, and it’s our job to be ahead of the game. Even the way people shop has changed, and people may go into a shop and not buy something, but when they go home, they’ll order it instead. In this industry when you’re talking about jewellery, if someone buys it online, they need assurance that it’s going to be a no-hassle return and it’s all going to be done for them. And we understand the power of the online world. And my point is that if you’re in a good company that believes in the inevitable progression, then generally they’ll be investing in these forward-thinking mechanisms and business activities.
By virtue of what market we’re in, it’s our job to be responsive and reactive to what’s going on. We must be very astute to an environment that can change very quickly. Keep abreast of what’s going on in the world because you never know what’s going to reveal something to you.
Can you share with us any major challenges during your career that you think shaped you to become the person you are today? What made them so poignant and how did you overcome them?
So, it was my third job at French Connection with a man called Stephen Marks who is incredibly inspiring… terrifying, but very, very bright. And this was my first role where I began to influence the business. I didn’t know if I’d do it successfully, but I saved around half a million pounds that were being wasted in the business, just by seeing something through and making it work with people. That’s an incredibly positive example of a challenge and I am immensely proud of it.
But you know, there are also negative aspects that can be quite empowering and poignant. When I was working at Christopher Kane as Chief Financial Officer, the company was haemorrhaging money, making a lot of losses. And it was disappointing. For me to present this to the key stakeholders in the group was so hard and disheartening. But, we got it back and it highlighted areas of improvement, like our control systems which were missing. So, it became a great lesson in double-checking things and going slow and steady.
In essence, I believe that if you set out to do the right things and work at it, you can make it happen. Also being humble and honest enough to acknowledge things that aren’t going well. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, it’s not always about constant success. Learn from your mistakes, or you’re going to keep making them. ‘Fail your way up’ as they say, but at least forgive yourself too.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? How can others find that motivation too?
Contrarily, I don’t get up in the morning because I can’t wait to get to work. What gets me up in the morning, and I’m going to be honest, is that I am thankful for where I’m at in life and the excitement of the notion that something magical could happen that you don’t expect. And there are so many things outside of work that make me happy. And I like the chaos of what could happen. That’s what gets me up. I like the fact that I know that whatever my plan is, the plan is not going to be exactly what happens. I wake up with a sense of adventure. We must remember that things rarely turn out how you want or expect them to. And I’ve been able to learn to try and live in the present a bit more.
And lastly what also gets me up is the chance to meet and connect with people, even on the journey to work. It can be revealing. It’s just the magic that each day will be different.
Do you think education like further learning is essential to your role? For those who wouldn’t describe themselves as studious, what else would you suggest to uplift their skills?
Well, I think if you’re going to do what I would call professional roles or technical roles, like if you want to be a doctor or want to be an accountant or a lawyer, you will need to study. If you’re not into studying or you aren’t studious in that way, you are out of those realms.
However, what I would say is you don’t always have to go to university, and there are other paths to learn things now. Even going straight into the working world and gaining experience to work your way up, is a great way in. The worst thing is to get into something and you’re fifteen years down the line, and you realise you don’t like it. You can always reskill and retrain, but there are factors which can impact it. I think it’s key to focus on what you’re good at and what you enjoy.
I would say the people who don’t want to go down the studious route should be brave enough to be entrepreneurial – if you’ve got that in you. And I think; if you’ve got that trait, go for it! It’s all about harnessing a skill. If you’re good at plumbing or you are interested in the field, then explore it and explore the idea of opening your own business. It’s essential to get practical experience and network with people in similar roles. If you need inspiration, look for role models! You can find them online to understand how they got where they are, and how they paved the way to success.
And, I would also say – don’t always think success is having the title of the job. If your life is miserable and you sacrifice everything for that job with nothing else for yourself, that’s not success. I believe that success is a wholesome life where you get to tick numerous boxes. Yes, it won’t always be a 10/10, but you will feel more satisfied.
How do you define success?
Success to me is living life how you want to live it. And there are no absolutes, but I think if you live a wholesome life, where you have good friends, good family, good relationships, a job you like doing; and you can have these by investing in yourself and playing the long game. I would say as well that it’s important to invest in yourself.
Travel, broaden your horizons and learn as much as you can. And if you’re not doing anything, broaden your horizons somehow, whether it’s watching inspirational people on YouTube or other platforms. There really is so much out there.Success to me is not just about your job and your job title. It’s about doing what you want to do and making an impact on people’s lives. That is success to me because that makes an impact on your life as well. It’s fulfilment, you know. I think that success and the measure of it is how you feel inside.