“The MBA by IFA Paris was exactly what I needed in my career”
Interview with IFA Paris graduate, business executive and entrepreneur Sabrina Douglas-Jones. A lesson of will, passion, marketing and business sense.
Michel Temman: Could your first introduce yourself? How did you start your career?
Sabrina Douglas-Jones: I started my career at Siemens and Fujitsu Siemens in Product Marketing in Germany in the early 2000’s. In 2006, I was offered the role of Key Account Manager for DB Schenker in Shanghai. At the time, I hadn’t given Asia much thought, but it was a fairly serendipitous offer and intrigued by a visit I decided to give it a shot: it turned out to be one of my best life changing decisions, although leaving my hometown, my family and friends – my life behind – was a tough one. My path at DB Schenker Shanghai developed rapidly to the point of becoming the youngest Global Account Manager in the entire organisation. In 2009 and 2010, I carried the responsibility for all Asia Pacific business for this account. But something was missing. I felt that I was too distant from end users. My role was too abstract and detached from the environment and market. So I resigned and pursued several left-field projects: consulting for NBC at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, photography and even volunteering at an orphanage in China. At one point during this “finding myself and my passion” time, I stumbled upon the MBA in Fashion Business with IFA Paris. This seemed to get me going. Why? I’m a business person and have always loved fashion! Fashion is about innovation, it is in every aspect of our lives from clothes to cars or to coffee, it’s everything. The particular attraction of the MBA was the partial study in Florence, Italy. The course structure and modules, all seemed to fit what I was looking for, and I felt would help me on my next career chapter.
Sabrina with former classmate Sissi Johnson (now brand strategist)
Michel Temman: Then, how did you succeed joining Swarovski?
Sabrina Douglas-Jones: Upon my graduation, I considered various markets for a new career entry. However my network was strongest in Shanghai. I had many interviews and one of which was with Swarovski Asia. Having gone through an intense assessment process, I landed the job: I was now Senior Manager in charge of the Strategy Implementation for North Asia reporting directly to the board. In short: I was basically an entrepreneur within a global organization – running pilot initiatives in Asia and implementing successful pilots to the organization globally. The strategy implementation dealt with two major businesses within Swarovski: Professional B2B Corporate Gifts and Finished Jewellery Solutions. Corporate Gifts is pretty much self-explanatory and with the right agencies it can be a perfectly self-multiplying business. Finished Jewellery provided retailers with a one-stop-shop solution to increase sales per square meter in store – leveraged with ingredient branding by Swarovski. Bottom line was to manage all (and create new) stakeholders for this new business, starting by ensuring respective business licences were in place, setting up dedicated sales people, employing new talent and finding the right profiles for these roles.
As well as creating new products and product catalogues, designing, sourcing, fixing price points, customer targeting, finding the right channels to market and last but not least: being on sales budget, which my region North Asia was. Other regions followed to our processes and steadily the standards that Asia had set, were taken on globally. The best of all: I loved my time with Swarovski and everything about it: the people I worked with, the crazy hours, the products, the brand, the responsibility I had and last but not least the impact my team made on a global level. We did it! I did it.
M.T.: You had a wealth of experience before joining IFA Paris. What made you think that you needed to join this academy? And what else have you learnt there?
Sabrina Douglas-Jones: Although I had a career prior to IFA Paris, it didn’t take me in the direction that I wanted. I was trying to find out what drives me. In this process, I knew that adding skills and knowledge would be the key that unlocked further potential in myself. I can be very driven by success but I felt that the success I was finding was too abstract. My process of discovery allowed me to really look at my strengths: I am very collaborative and I have an important network. I was able to combine this with the desire to see the work I’m doing affect change in an end user or customer. My network allowed me to reach out to others in different disciplines and careers. A turning point was hearing from a senior executive from a large German apparel company that he found my profile “very interesting but not relevant enough to be employed within the apparel sector.”
Shanghai project realized by the architecture and design Atelier INDJ
If I wanted to work in supply chain in that company, it could have worked, however if I wanted to work at the front end then, I’d have to change something. The MBA Fashion Business of IFA Paris was able to fill my skills gap and finally move in the direction I wanted to. The MBA bolstered my network and gave me a basis of the mechanics of the fashion business, from strategic marketing, consumer psychology to luxury theory. The Shanghai course had a focus on the Asian markets that are dynamic and fast, with a foot already firmly in the Asian door. So to speak, I was now equipped with broad but also fairly specific knowledge about one of the most dynamic markets there is: China.
M.T.: After this experience in the luxury sector, how did it turn? What do you do now?
Sabrina Douglas-Jones: After Swarovski, my husband and I decided to move to New Zealand for a bit of a new and different adventure. We wanted to see how we feel being back in “The Western World” – and also wanted to have a family. Years later, being a mother of an energetic three year old boy and now business owners, we are moving back to Shanghai. We’re touching down grounds in China for good again. In New Zealand, from 2014 up to now, we established two companies. The first one, SDJ Consultancy (1), is a consulting firm specialized in China Advisory for New Zealand Companies, in particular Business Development and Operations as well as Market Management. We work closely with New Zealand Authorities together to support and develop this very important trade-lane not only with relevance, but also with effectiveness in suitable channels.
Shanghai project realized by the architecture and design Atelier INDJ
Clients that we have or still are working with are e.g. The University of Auckland or Blunt Umbrellas. Within the scope of my consulting firm I have also partnered with The Icehouse (University and Government funded Consulting firm for New Zealand SME’s) as a Business Coach and was awarded Top Blog Post 2017. The second company is Atelier INDJ, an award winning multi-disciplinary design studio (2) My husband Ian is a designer whose background in architecture has given the studio a solid reputation in the Asia market, recognised by Architectural Digest as one of the top 100 most influential architects and designers in China. We are able to call household brands among our clients, as well as lesser known but still formidable names – we have recently begun working with fortune 500 company Greenland Group on a number of large scale mixed mode residential based projects in first and second tier cities.
M.T.: What is your role exactly in this new adventure?
Sabrina Douglas-Jones: Operating two studios from both Auckland and Shanghai needs an adept business mind to navigate compliance, tax, contracts and multinational best business practice to name but a few topics, this is where I step in and provide a foundation to this flourishing business. Design is a solution to a given problem, in many instances this means being able to think laterally and be agile enough to anticipate that problem, cross region, cross culture and in sometimes quite different minds-sets. In short this means being able to adapt and do so with speed – being able to change career with the help of IFA Paris has been hugely valuable in proving that adaptation is key to survival as an entrepreneur running multiple businesses – the sum of my experience to date. Skillset and knowledge have been the complement to this creative and particular partnership.
Right now we are aptly in the midst of planning for Shanghai Fashion Weekend, this is the B2C component of the famed B2B Shanghai Fashion Week. And the second time, we will have planned, designed and assisted the over 3000 square meters event to be held at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, in Nanjing Xi Road. Our staple is F&B having completed numerous projects across China, including Bar Rouges’ sister project InfraRouge in Beijing’s Sanlitun Village. We also have several direct commissions for large scale sculptures, and undertake product design for the likes of BMW Mini – so the work is wide and varied and certainly keeps us on our toes. Despite proving that we can run an award winning studio from 10,000 km’s away (technology and a 5 hours head start being the enabler here), we feel that being back ‘on the ground’ would help us change up a gear for the next stage of growth. As such we are taking somewhat a leap of faith to move back to China and nurture the seed planted from New Zealand into manageable business growth that will honour and accredit the talent and hard work that has been put in over the years. A last word: we are growing our team and always looking for likeminded talent to support both businesses, so please get in touch!
For more information on the MBA pursued by Sabrina, please visit MBA Fashion Business