Chief Executive Officer of Burberry
Born Rose Marie La Pila, c. 1951, in the Bronx, New York, NY; daughter of a hair-salon owner and a seamstress; married and divorced; married William Jackey (a retired furniture executive), c. 1983; children: two stepchildren. Education: Graduated from Fordham University, c. 1971.
Addresses: Office —Burberry Ltd., 29-53 Chatham Pl., Hackney, London, B9 6LT, United Kingdom.
Began career as a trainee buyer for Abraham & Strauss, 1971; hired as assistant buyer, Macy's Department Store chain, 1974; promoted to buyer and then administrator; in 1983 became group vice president for cosmetics, contemporary sportswear, and coats, then senior vice president of merchandising until 1988; served as chief executive of I. Magnin stores, 1988-92; president of Saks Holdings, Inc., 1992-97; joined Burberry as chief executive, 1997.
American retail executive Rose Marie Bravo led the British raincoat maker Burberry Ltd. into an unprecedented turnaround since taking over as chief executive officer in 1997. Bravo's talents, which include a savvy marketing expertise and impeccable fashion sense, have served to double sales for the once-beleaguered company and make it into one of the youngest, hippest luxury brands. She is one of the highest-paid executives in Europe, and has been called "a brand name herself in the fashion world" by Fortune magazine's Lauren Goldstein.
Born in the early 1950s, Bravo is a native of the New York City borough of the Bronx, where she was grew up as Rose Marie La Pila. Her father ran a hair salon on 181st Street, and while her mother was a seamstress by profession. As a young teen, Bravo won admission to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, and went on to Fordham University, also in the Bronx. She majored in English literature, and graduated almost two years ahead of schedule by taking summer classes.
Bravo's first job after college had little to do with her choice of major: in 1971, she was hired as a trainee buyer for Abraham & Strauss, a New York City department store chain. Three years later, she moved on to Macy's Department Stores, the landmark Manhattan retailer, with a job as an assistant buyer. She moved up through the ranks to become an administrator, and in 1983 was promoted to the position of group vice president responsible for cosmetics, contemporary sportswear, and coats for Macy's; later in the decade she became senior vice president of merchandising.
In the department-store acquisition mania of the 1980s, Macy's acquired I. Magnin, the California-based retailer with a reputation as the West-Coast home for luxury fashion. Bravo was tapped to head it in 1988, and relocated to Magnin headquarters in San Francisco. Over the next four years, she led the company through an impressive turnaround, despite some immense odds, including the gutting of its recently renovated Los Angeles flagship store in the 1992 riots. That same year, Bravo took over as president of Saks Fifth Avenue, a high-end retailer with a reputation for carrying an impressive international roster of designer goods. Bravo began adding a number of hipper luxury labels with a younger target market to its sales floor, such as Gucci and Prada, and made its cosmetics counters a leading launch space for new fragrance lines from designers.
Bravo was said to be in possession of a fabled personal Rolodex, giving her access to some of the most famous names in fashion, and used it to revitalize Saks and make it a destination for fashionistas and younger shoppers alike. Her impressive turnaround helped the retailer emerge as a publicly traded company in 1996, but there were industry rumors that she and Saks chair Philip Miller did not agree on some issues. In 1997, Bravo shocked the fashion world by taking over at Burberry, the venerable British raincoat manufacturer that had fallen on hard times. Founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, the man who invented gabardine, the company was known for its high-end raincoats with a distinctive signature plaid. But its British parent company, Great Universal Stores (GUS), was said to have neglected it over the years, and had sacrificed brand prestige for profit by selling goods in bulk on the so-called "gray market" in Asia.
Once again, Bravo left her hometown for a new job, moving to London and beginning what are known as her trademark 12-hour days in a rather unprepossessing office space above Burberry's London factory. She closed some of the costly raincoat factories that were still in England, installed new computer and manufacturing systems, and secured the services of a young Italian-American designer, Roberto Menichetti, to retool the Burberry look. Menichetti designed a line of Burberry women's clothing that made a stunning runway debut at the ready-to-wear collections in 1999. There was also an ad campaign—once again, likely using Bravo's unerring ability to call in favors—shot by Vogue photographer Mario Testino and featuring models Kate Moss and Stella Tennant, whose own ultra-hip, "Cool Britannia"-identities helped reinvigorate the Burberry brand immensely.
Under Bravo's guidance, Burberry morphed into Prorsum, the high fashion line, then a core collection called Burberry London and, thirdly, a younger, hipper line of clothing with the label "Thomas Burberry." The results were stunning: in 2001, the British journal the Economist claimed that the country "is in the grip of Burberry mania. Two years ago, the label was shunned by all but Asian tourists for its naff plaid-lined raincoats that not even dead men would be caught wearing. Today, everyone from Posh Spice to Cherie Blair, who wore Burberry to the state opening of Parliament, is sporting its signature camel, black and red plaid design." Valued as a company worth $360 million in 1997 when Bravo took over, in seven years that figure had increased nearly ten times, to $3.4 billion.
Bravo's London triumph had not been an easy one, she later noted. "Burberry was a mess," she told the Economist. "I had many evenings of tears. My parents visited me and asked: 'You left Fifth Avenue for this?'" But her faultless sense of what the fashion world wanted next was recognized several times over by her GUS bosses, and she is one of the most well-compensated executives in the retail industry. In 2002, she topped the list of the highest-paid European executives with a $9.2 million salary package. Though Bravo rarely gives interviews, she has said more than once that her rise to the upper echelons of fashion retailing was not that unusual, given her original start in cosmetics. There, she noted, sharp business minds were already commonplace, and her role models were from an earlier generation, such as Estée Lauder and Helena Rubenstein. "If you've been given this road map and you see that others have gone before you and achieved, you never have in your mind the notion of failure," a journalist from Glasgow's Herald newspaper, Beth Pearson, quoted Bravo as saying. "You have the notion that you can do it too, if you're good enough and smart enough and make the right decisions."
Economist, February 3, 2001, p. 7.
Forbes, April 3, 2000, p. 84.
Fortune, November 9, 1998, p. 154.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), August 7, 2004, p. 17.
Time, February 16, 2004, p. 30.
WWD, April 18, 1988, p. 75; September 5, 1997, p. 1.