Exclusive: CEO of luxury brand Seafolly discusses US Expansion, LVHM and Gigi Hadid
Variety is not always the best spice in life.
There is such a thing as “too much.”
You can’t win them all.
These are phrases that some critics may have wanted to say – or even (prematurely) said – to Australian-born swimwear brand Seafolly. And for a time, they were right.
Despite a jaw-dropping swimwear line founded on vibrant print and female-flattering – and favored – cuts, current CEO Anthony Halas knew there were changes to be made when he bought out a shareholder of the family business in 1998.
“At that point in time, the company was doing lots and lots of things: active wear, apparel, swimwear, [underwear],” said Halas, in an exclusive interview with Laura Close, Editor of our sister brand, Business Review Australia. “When I took over the business, I saw that there was this little jewel, Seafolly, that was a very small brand at the time. I stopped the business from doing every other market it was in and purely focused on Seafolly.”
And he was right: L Capital Asia, the Asia-based private-equity fund sponsored by LVMH Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton S.A., currently owns a controlling stake in the swimwear brand.
“Seafolly was being approached for years by private equity or trade buyers who wanted to invest in our business," Halas said. "I never came across someone who could truly add value and truly help the brand meet its longer-term goals [until] LVMH. After two months of being partners, they already are adding value.”
Americans, this is when we get excited.
Having the Parisian-based, internationally-admired conglomerate at its side, Halas continued, provided the brand with an opportunity to expand on a global-scale.
Debuting in the Land of the Free in 2013, the brand has wasted no time establishing its mark and making a splash stateside, appearing on shelves of high-end retailers and upscale boutiques. Always ahead of the, ahem, curve, Seafolly recently named American-born model Gigi Hadid as the face of the brand.
“She’s healthy, vibrant—I think a lot of women see that Gigi doesn’t have the stick-thin model figure, but a curvy, vivacious one. I think she just represents that healthy, active lifestyle that Seafolly is about," Halas shared.
Today’s “It Girl” just may be tomorrow’s icon (her recent roster includes print campaigns for Guess; walks for Marc Jacobs during New York Fashion Week; and more life-changing appearances for Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel, and Chanel during Paris Fashion Week), and the combination of Hadid and Seafolly are sure to impress.
Click here to read the March edition of Business Review USA
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.