Grooming L'Occitane's Financial Performance

Sam Duffy on her role as finance director at the French luxury cosmetics outfit's British unit and how her MBA informs her decision-making

I'm the finance director for the British subsidiary of L'Occitane, a French luxury cosmetics and toiletries company. My responsibilities include overseeing information technology and office facilities, but in the past I have also been responsible for stock control, mail order, and Web operations. Because this is a growing company, roles and responsibilities can change rapidly. But I've been working toward paring down my role so that I can drive financial performance more effectively.

I think my previous retail experience was a stronger factor in my being approached for this role than my MBA. This was my first director appointment, but I had previously been finance manager for one of the largest toiletries chains in Britain. While I had tailored my MBA to be more retail-focused through my choice of electives and project topics, I don't think the company understood the value of my MBA. Retail in Britain is a niche industry that's difficult to get into without previous experience. Before I went to business school, I had an unusual combination of operational and finance roles in the industry, as well as a chartered accountancy qualification from a large firm.


8:10 a.m. -- I ride my dragon-red Vespa motor scooter into London's West End from my home in Clerkenwell. I hate public transportation and try to walk or ride everywhere I can. I'm not an early morning person and struggle to get in before 9 a.m., but today I have an important meeting at 10 a.m. with our bank. This is a crucial time when we're planning for the year ahead, finalizing the results for our financial year, and securing funding for the strategy contained in our budget. I have to convince our parent company in France (known to us as Group) that our budget and strategy are sound. At the same time I have to determine how much of our funding it will provide.

8:30 a.m. -- I have received confirmation from Group on its commitment to our funding, and I need to rework my budget and cash-flow projections for the bank to determine our working capital requirements.

9:30 a.m. -- I have to print out summaries of the budget, strategy, and cash flow and write an agenda for the meeting. The finance team is based in the basement of the Regent Street store, which has many operational benefits. However, this morning I'm cursing it because I have little time to prepare for the meeting, which is a 10-minute walk away at our main office.

10 a.m. -- The meeting kicks off with a summary of the group position by our managing director (MD). We discuss the British strategy for next year, then we get into the detailed discussion of our financing. I hadn't had time to rehearse a script with my MD, but we have done this before, and the meeting flows well.

We also update the bank on our expected results for this year and look at the demonstration of a new Web-based payment system that I'm considering implementing.

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