Jodi Bartle talks to Natalie Da Gama-Rose, general counsel for Asia’s premier fashion retail, brand management and distribution company.
After reading law at Cambridge University, Hong Kong-based Natalie Da Gama-Rose qualified and worked as a banking lawyer and later undertook an MBA at London Business School. Her broad-based practice has spanned strategic business development in the luxury retail and hotel, telecommunications and media and technology sectors, and she now heads General Counsel for The Lane Crawford Joyce Group. The Group is Asia’s premier fashion retail, brand management and distribution company whose portfolio includes 160 year old heritage department store Lane Crawford, a globally renowned luxury fashion, beauty and lifestyle department store, as well as independent boutiques, commerce and omni-channel operations.
Natalie set up and now manages the Group Legal Department for The Lane Crawford Joyce Group, servicing the operations of four Group companies throughout the region. She is also part of the strategic advisory team reporting to the Chairman of the Group responsible for identifying opportunities for value creation for the leadership team of the Group’s operating companies. Previously, Natalie worked for the WPP Group, EMI Recorded Music and Harrods Ltd.
Luxury Law Alliance: After a career spanning the disciplines of retail, hotels, telecoms, media and tech, what led you to The Lane Crawford Joyce Group?
Natalie Da Gama-Rose: My interest was sparked by the Group’s passion to deliver the best in luxury fashion and lifestyle and innovation in retail experience supported by the long-term view of a family-owned business - which is critical to building real brand value. I can think of no more exciting part of the world than Greater China to deliver on this promise.
LLA: The brand has evolved over a long period of time from a traditional, heritage-heavy bricks-and-mortar presence into the first omni-channel fashion retailer in China. What has kept you ahead and in control of managing the legal aspects of The Lane Crawford Joyce Group’s innovative and tech-driven evolution?
NDG-R: The operational pace is fast with constantly evolving demands for efficiency and value- add solutions. We have developed online solutions to assist our operational teams, including a supplier portal for acceptance of our Terms of Business, an employee portal for acceptance of our Employee Handbooks and an interactive ETHICS program for employee orientation.
LLA: What best practice tips do you have for other legal heads in companies dealing with the uncharted waters of emerging tech?
NDG-R: Keep customer experience (internal and external) at the forefront, constantly evolve your offer to meet requirement and address feedback, and do not be afraid to rip apart an existing process and start from scratch.
LLA: In what ways is the Asian luxury market distinct from other international luxury markets?
NDG-R: Our customers are extremely sophisticated and their tastes evolve very rapidly. They are led to a much higher degree by peer-to-peer recommendation than customers in other markets in my view.
LLA: What challenges and opportunities exist currently for The Lane Crawford Joyce Group in the luxury retail sector specifically, and more broadly for other heritage brands?
NDG-R: Opportunities exist to employ technology to personalise experiences and to address customer concerns regarding ethical and sustainable sourcing. Our group has embraced these opportunities by launching clienteling applications in store and introducing fully biodegradable packaging. Challenges exist in respecting the essence of a brand and its design heritage and responding to evolving customer taste and interaction – this is a question of integrity and a difficult balance to achieve.
LLA: How is your legal function structured and what do you need most in offerings from outside counsel?
NDG-R: I have a small agile team supported on a project basis by seconded lawyers subject to requirement. We work with retained firms in China and in Hong Kong in areas of specialist expertise including employment law and compliance.
LLA: What are you most proud of regarding your work at The Lane Crawford Joyce Group?
NDG-R: I have been involved in mentoring start-ups through an internal initiative known as The Cage. One of my mentee companies has successfully re-engineered its mobile clienteling application and secured a commercial agreement with The Lane Crawford Joyce Group through this programme.
LLA: What issues keep you up at night?
NDG-R: If anything might keep me up it is cybersecurity risk which I feel for any business is a threat of “when” not “if” - but in truth I am asleep as soon as my head hits my pillow.
LLA: What does “luxury” mean to you?
NDG-R: For me luxury is time and I try to create space in the day to bring awareness and balance to the physical, spiritual and emotional experience of life. I value timeless pieces that respect this balance in their craftsmanship, beauty, sourcing and delivery with personal service.