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      Empowering employees in a context of hypergrowth - Interview with Pierre-Arnaud Grenade

      Empowering employees in a context of hypergrowth - Interview with Pierre-Arnaud Grenade
      With
      Jean-Charles Samuelian
      Jean-Charles SamuelianCEO d'Alan
      Updated on
      12 October 2023
      With
      Jean-Charles Samuelian
      Jean-Charles SamuelianCEO d'Alan
      Updated on
      12 October 2023
      Share this article

      After working for the Beaumanoir Group and Princesse Tam Tam, Pierre-Arnaud Grenade joined ready-to-wear company ba&sh as CEO in 2015. The brand is characterized by a corporate culture that emphasizes team empowerment and interpersonal relationships. It is largely inspired by its founding team of two long-time friends. 

      On the program:

      • "The founders' friendship is the bedrock of ba&sh culture"‍

      • "A non-scalable project is a non-project"‍

      • "We put employees in a position in which they become something of founders of the company"‍

      • "We can't offer our employees a career path, but they know they'll grow with the company"‍

      • "The store is like a brain".

      "The founders' friendship is the bedrock of ba&sh's culture".

      Jean-Charles Samuelian: Hello Pierre-Arnaud! Could you explain how ba&sh's corporate culture came about?

      ‍Pierre-Arnaud Grenade : It all started with the friendship of the two founders, Barbara Boccara and Sharon Krief. Right from the company's inception in 2003, their friendship marked the foundation of ba&sh's culture, which is still very much centered on a sense of teamwork.

      As the company grew, this became a challenge. We asked ourselves how we could maintain and also develop the importance of relationships at the heart of our culture, and how we could promote empathy and the development of interpersonal relations. 

      Many friendships have been forged within the company. These bonds are conducive to performance and efficiency in the broadest sense of the term, because when people trust each other, things naturally move faster. There are no pretenses.

      The importance of relationships is also reflected in our stores. We want our customers to remember their visit to our stores and our teams as friendly, attentive people. Even if they don't buy anything, they should have a pleasant time and want to come back. 

      JC.S: You were talking about friendships between employees. Can it sometimes be a hindrance, especially when it comes to making difficult decisions? How do you combine friendship with a sense of performance?

      ‍PA.G: For me, friendship is more of a "facilitator" in decision-making. In particular, these relationships help us to feel confident enough to tackle difficult discussions and say things to each other.

      So, even if not all our employees are friends, it's true that there's a generally positive atmosphere in the company. People accept each other, even in difficult times. There's a lot of trust in each other, and there's no "star"; it's the collective that makes us successful.

      This context forces us to be very factual in our decision-making, notably through the use of very precise measuring instruments. Our decisions are very much based on data, which is essential to limit bias and the effects of "friendly influence". Striking the right balance between good relations and objectivity is essential. 

      "A non-scalable project is a non-project."

      JC.S: What are the other pillars of your corporate culture?

      ‍PA.G : Beyond the relational, which is the central element of our culture, agility is also one of our pillars. You can put a lot of things behind this somewhat catch-all term, which is why we've defined it with 4 A's.

      The first A stands for aspiration. Our company must inspire and give meaning to our employees. From 2003 to 2014, the founding team laid the foundations and worked on the "what" of our organization. Then, from 2015 to 2022, we really worked on the "how": how to become a digital brand, how to become an international, committed brand... Today, we are working on the "why" because, once a certain size is reached, it is important to work on the meaning we give to our professions, those of fashion. It makes sense to dress people, especially women. Their clothes give them confidence and give more impact to their actions.

      The second A is authenticity. For us, it's the alignment between our actions and our values. Our relationships are very authentic, and we recruit employees above all for their personality and their ability to be "real".

      The third A is anticipation. Hearing the market's weak signals thanks to data or the curiosity of our teams, gathering feedback, listening to what our customers tell us in store... All this makes us agile. I'm very interested in customer feedback and I read all the NPS (Net Promoter Score) every week. I particularly focus on negative opinions and those that may seem isolated. I also spend every Thursday in store to observe customer behavior. That's when I come up with my best ideas! Getting out of the office helps to put things into perspective and gain perspective.

      Finally, autonomy is particularly important in our culture. If you don't give your subsidiaries any autonomy, it's complicated. Autonomy is closely linked to the right to make mistakes that you give your employees. Personally, I think you learn by making mistakes. We just ask our employees to make mistakes quickly, and then bounce back!

      JC.S: ba&sh has become a truly international brand. How has the corporate culture adapted?

      ‍PA.G : In addition to making English mandatory on our management committee, we now require every project to be scalable. If a project isn't, it's a non-project. 

      For example, we have implemented an omnichannel solution providing a unified view of store and warehouse stock. This solution enables our stores to ship parts to other stores and to our web customers. Initiated in Europe, this solution will also be deployed in the US and China. 

      JC.S: Do you have an expression that sums up your culture?

      ‍PA.G Born Collective is our tagline and sums up our history, but we have many mantras, Feminity is Power being one of them. 

      It's not just "woman" in "feminity" (even though our team is 85% female, including the Executive Committee). It's a posture with which we approach all our projects: less power stakes, a genuine concern for the quality of relationships, sincere empathy, an ability to bring people together that goes beyond charisma...

      After that, it's important for me not to impose our culture on our teams. It's not intrusive. Everyone retains their own identity and, in the end, it's the sum of individualities that makes up the group. Stronger Together is another of our mantras.

      JC.S: What social commitments does your company make?

      ‍PA.G: Our company has always been heavily involved in supporting women.

      For many years we have supported the fight against breast cancer and, more recently, against violence against women. We also made a real shift in 2017 in our environmental commitment. We have done a lot of work on our practices, our materials, our suppliers, our store management, clothing repair, second-hand... Today, we no longer make any decision without calculating its global impact (carbon, biodiversity, human rights...).

      Finally, on the subject of diversity and inclusion, we have set up an internal committee that keeps us on our toes on a number of issues, including the sizes of the models featured on our website and our communications.

      In 2020, in a world-first partnership with UNESCO, we trained 1,200 employees to detect discrimination and understand the mechanisms of racism. The aim was to enable our American, Chinese and European employees to understand in order to better prevent racism. The training took the form of 8 masterclasses and was led by ethnologists. We learned a lot. 

      "We put employees in a position where they become a bit of founders of the company."

      JC.S: You mentioned the importance of autonomy in your corporate culture. How do you concretely promote it internally?

      ‍PA.G : It starts with recruitment. We're careful to recruit people who know how to take responsibility, challenge themselves and evolve in a context of hypergrowth. Relational and emotional intelligence are hyper-important at this stage.

      For in-store recruitment, our staff follow an interview guide. In general, they are able to identify these qualities in candidates very quickly.

      We're also fortunate to have an HR team that really understands our corporate culture, and selects profiles that are a real fit. This helps us enormously.

      Personally, when it comes to key hires, I always meet the candidates. I like to do two interviews: in the first, I ask a lot of questions, and in the second, I'm more observant. You can learn a lot about a person by observing their body language, for example. It also allows me to detect what is or isn't constructed in their speech.

      Once recruited, we encourage every member of our teams to take the initiative, and we always value ideas, even if we sometimes decide not to follow them up. An idea may seem unsuitable at first, but with a few iterations it can become brilliant! Being creative is a must for ba&sh and it's in our genes. But beyond that, I believe that being inventive and innovative, even in "non-creative" departments, is rooted in autonomy and the right to make mistakes. It's the counterpart of the freedom that exists within the brand.

      JC.S: Do you have any initiatives in place to encourage people to take the initiative?

      ‍PA.G : Yes, I'm thinking in particular of our Challenger Club. For 18 months, we train a group of 10 company employees, recommended by our managers.

      They come from very different teams and locations. So we can have in the same graduating class people who come from IT, styling, marketing... 

      First, they carry out very concrete projects for the company, then they take part in the CODIR and have access to our decision-making agendas. They question and challenge us on the decisions we make.

      More broadly, on a day-to-day basis, we involve our managers in decision-making and are very transparent. On a voluntary basis, all our employees can attend our weekly "Breakfast & Curious" meetings, where we talk about current projects. These breakfasts are a real source of additional ideas for all company projects.

      This enables us to empower people and put them in a position where they themselves become something of founders of the company. For example, if you're in charge of a boutique, you're the founder of ba&sh in the town or district concerned. The same goes for the head of a country: you are the founder of the brand in that country. 

      JC.S: You also said that it's important to make employees dream. How do you go about this?

      ‍PA.G : In the fashion industry, products are first and foremost a source of fascination. The communication, growth and success of our products are also the stuff of dreams.

      But above all, I think it's very important to share the company's results with our employees. Above all, people want their work to be recognized. To know that their work has paid off motivates them and, in a way, makes them dream. This is all the more essential given that our sector is highly competitive and based on human relations.

      "We can't offer our employees a career path, but they know they'll grow with the company."

      JC.S: How do you adapt your company's organization and jobs to this context of hyper-growth? Do you offer your employees a career path?

      ‍PA.G : We built our organization around people, not the other way around. We've never tried to fit people into molds. 

      As a result, when they leave the company or change jobs, we inevitably have to rethink the organization. But that's not a tragedy at all, because the company's vocation is to evolve continuously in line with projects! Given the current context, it's vital to be able to change quickly and not become entrenched in an overly rigid organization.

      We can't offer them a precise career path, but they know that they will grow with the company and develop.

      JC.S: This can actually be an asset. Over-rigid organization slows down productivity and innovation.

      ‍PA.G: That's true. I think it's important not to get bogged down in organizational patterns. You have to know how to rethink your organization on an ongoing basis, as projects arise. 

      For example, we've done a lot of work on digital in recent years, but given that our challenge today is to become completely omnichannel, we're going to rethink our organization. In particular, we're going to work cross-functionally by customer use case, focusing on recruitment and repeat business.

      This ability to move our organization makes the process less costly, less impressive for our teams and less restrictive.

      However, there is just one exception. We have to set a minimum standard for the way we organize our store staff. We need to build solid career paths and lasting organizations for them, to give them visibility and build loyalty. 

      JC.S: How do you manage this diversity of profiles on a day-to-day basis? How do you adapt the culture?

      ‍PA.G: We have employees with a wide variety of profiles, between people who work in boutiques, employees at head office,stylists and pattern makers, financial or logistics teams for example... But all our employees share our culture and a certain idea of commitment to the company.

      Of course, our employees all have different ways of thinking. Some are more rational, others more creative. But we always find junctions between them. Marketing, for example, acts as the pivot between the creative and sales teams. 

      And in the end, it's always our customers who have the final say. It's through them that we know whether the decisions made were the right ones or not.

      JC.S: How do you foster this customer-oriented culture in all your employees? 

      ‍PA.G: We work with personas that detail the profiles of 4 typical female customers. All our employees know them. Initially, this was a fairly conceptual marketing construct, but we're now taking it a step further. First, we want to estimate the weight of each persona among our customers by scanning our entire database. We will also set up a quick questionnaire for our in-store customers, to get to know them better and offer them a tailored service.

      "The store is a real brain."

      JC.S: How have you seen the retail business evolve in recent years? 

      ‍PA.G: Retail has become totally omnichannel, which is a post-COVID transformation I'd say. Today, 20% of our stores' business is omnichannel. This means, for example, ordering items in-store, managing returns, making appointments with customers... 

      The store is therefore at the heart of our strategies, a real brain. That's why we need to give people in the store the tools they need to make the right decisions.

      We also need to ask ourselves what it means to dress someone today. I'm convinced that selling clothes shouldn't be seen as a simple transaction. The salesperson has to help the customer find a piece that she feels good in and that may become her favorite garment. The garment may also be used for important occasions: a wedding, an interview... There's a real emotional relationship with the garment.

      In a world of hyper-consumption, we've positioned ourselves on the credo "buy less but buy better". Our customers buy quality clothes that will last and have a story behind them. 

      JC.S: I can see how this message might work in Anglo-Saxon countries. However, in France, we can be rather cynical and consider this type of positioning as "bullshit". How do you feel about this?

      ‍PA.G: Just listen to our customers talk about the brand, they live it! By listening to them, we understand that our clothes are part of their intimacy. There's no cynicism. Our store teams experience this on a daily basis, and that's the beauty of their job. They are aware that they are participating in something joyful and useful for our customers. 

      However, we have to remain hypervigilant, because we have to work constantly on this bond of trust with our customers. Breaking that trust can be more serious than a simple sales failure. Reputation and trust must be nurtured.

      Published on 02/02/2023

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