Gregory Furman, Founder Of New York-Based Council, Recently Launched China Chapter In Shanghai
After his return to New York from Shanghai, where he was in town to launch the inaugural China chapter of the Luxury Marketing Council, founder Gregory Furman recently sat down with Betty Chen of Jing Daily to discuss the opportunities presented to luxury marketers and brands in China, consumer education levels there, and why now is the right time for his company to enter the Chinese market.
Founded in New York in 1994, the Luxury Marketing Council — an invitation-only organization of more than 4,000 CEOs and CMOs representing more than 1,000 major luxury goods and services companies in 36 cities worldwide — brings luxury professionals together to explore best practices and critical issues and share intelligence on consumer and market trends.
Jing Daily (JD): You’ve just been to Shanghai to debut the Luxury Marketing Council’s new China chapter and take part in the “Luxury Market in China” Summit. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience there?
Gregory Furman (GF): Yes. Thanks to Steven Yao who is the publisher of Fortune Character and his team, Jessica Tu, who is one of my partners in China, and Savio Chan, who is my partner in the US. It was an amazing experience. I saw probably 400 leaders in government, business, luxury, professional services and consulting. The audience was a mix of people from business, the arts, and, importantly, academia, which I think is the future of marketing. I always believe that it’s critical for these three sectors to work more closely together, especially as the world becomes more global. It was a beautifully organized event, and the content, I thought, was first-class. I learned a great deal and I met lots of fabulous people, and came home with something like 100 cards.
I’ve never been anywhere where I felt as welcome and warm, as probably treated like a celebrity more than I deserved, but people seemed interested in what I had to say. I did one of the keynotes, and I think it was well received. I talked about how important the partnership between the US and China will be, going forward, and talked about growing up in an American working-class family. In my opening remarks, I said that I think China is now where the United States was in late ’40s and early ’50s, which is to say that hard work and education are what are going to make the country move forward very quickly. My other impression during my many trips to China has been the hunger to succeed and the hunger to learn, and I don’t think there is any place in the world as powerful as China now in this sense.
JD: What motivated the Luxury Marketing Council to launch a Chapter in China, and why now?
GF: Well, sometimes it’s a matter of luck and circumstance. One answer is that I had to be in a situation in which the Council had reached critical mass to allow me to be credible globally as a global thought leader. That took some time, for me to grow the council from 32 companies in New York in 1995 to 1,000 brands now in 37 cities with more than 5,000 CEOs and CMOs. And the other was it took a while for me to meet people as great as Jessica, Savio and Steven. I always believe that in business, you have to be at the right place at the right time. So I think at exactly the same time when China was moving, the Council was moving. Also, the Council has reached the level of maturity where we’ve learned a lot from research and all the things we’ve done. China is just beginning to move like a great engine, and there has been maybe no time in history in which China has been as hungry to have luxury and a better life. I think now is a great time to be there.
JD: What kinds of functions will the Council’s China chapter have, and what kinds of events will it organize?
GF: The functions of the China chapter are to be a thought leader in every segment of retail, consulting, and publishing so as to better serve the best customers, to better educate the best customers about what makes luxury worth the price. Also, to partner with government and academia to help brands be more intelligent in China, to train and educate people who serve the best customers, and to help everybody make money and profit in the process. In the US and globally, the Luxury Marketing Council is more B2B, but I think in China the major opportunity, especially in terms of educating young people, who are coming out of school and want to find employment with luxury brands, is helping them be better educated on how to be credible in the eyes of luxury brands and intelligent facing the best consumer. That’s a big B2C opportunity.
There is also a B2E (employee) opportunity in China, in terms of working with existing brands and training existing staff. I think there are more opportunities to better educate the best consumer on how to better appreciate what luxury is, which is something that is still true in the US. One of the things that China and US have in common is that only 10 percent of the big money in the US is inherited or held among celebrities. The other 90 percent are people like me: first generation, education, and hard-working. China and the US can learn together on how to profit, as both of our markets mature.
JD: Is there anything unique about the China chapter of the Luxury Marketing Council vis-a-vis other chapters?
GF: The Luxury Marketing Council in the US is a membership model. Companies pay to play, and it’s invitation-only. They really do want to understand best practices, so last year in New York we did 46 events. We look to serve here in the States as an intelligent broker to inspire companies to collaborate and partner with one another. Right now, we’re wrestling with how successful that might be in China, and I think our instinct is to figure out some ways to collaborate intelligently with government and academia to understand how we all see the opportunity, and then to pick areas where we can work together most productively once we define those opportunities. I think there we have to start from a slightly different prospective.
JD: As you said, many Luxury Marketing Council members in New York are CEOs and CMOs from luxury goods and services companies, so what kind of criteria are needed to become a member of China chapter?
GF: I think the criteria are probably very similar. We focus on globally recognized luxury brands across all categories and every segment of retail. I think in China, the brands we want to align and work with will be all of the obvious ones, meaning the great luxury brands that we would all put on a list on our top 200. These brands already have a presence in China. We would also consider all of the great Chinese brands in areas like retail, consulting, publishing, web design, corporate identity, professional services, trade centers, universities. We are credible, since we have been doing this for 18 years, and we all need to learn one from another.
Check back later this week for part two of our interview with Gregory Furman.