Penn Fashion Week began on Tuesday with a keynote address from Polo Ralph Lauren’s President and COO, Roger Farah. Farah shared his experiences from his time at Ralph Lauren and his thirty years in the retail business.
Farah recalled that when he graduated from Wharton in 1974, he was one of only a few of his peers who decided to enter the retail industry. Many of his classmates chose careers in Wall Street or consulting, while Farah took a job with relatively low pay to pursue a career that he believed could provide diversified experiences. Choosing interest over starting salary, Farah entered a field that he has found engaging and exciting for over thirty years and has achieved a high level of success.
Farah has worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and Foot Locker, and now is at the head of what he calls a “traditional heritage company [at the] forefront of technologies.” Working for Ralph Lauren allows employees to combine right-brain skills such as design and merchandising with left-brain sensibilities.
When Farah took his position in 2000, Ralph Lauren was a company of 1,000 employees. The brand was successful. But like most executives of the time, he was faced with the task of taking an established brand into the modern world.
Farah spoke of how “marketing [for Ralph Lauren] is about branding and imaging. We want the customers to want a piece of the American dream and lifestyle.” As Farah took over the company, it was looking to expand into more global markets. The main concern was whether these new areas would want a piece of the American lifestyle that Ralph Lauren represents.
Farah’s and other employees’ efforts have paid off. Currently, 65% of the products are sold in the United States, 19% in Europe, and 16% in Asia. Over the next ten years, Farah hopes to even out these numbers with each geographic region selling 1/3 of the products.
Farah is confident that though the undertaking is ambitious but not unachievable, suggesting that companies succeed because of “great ideas, a great balance sheet, and talent.” He stated firmly, “we’ve got great talent.” These talented individuals will be integral members of Ralph Lauren in the coming decade. For the company to achieve its goals in the Asian-Pacific region, for example, Farah believes it will need 12,000 employees. Over time, there will be new ways for important company figures to work internationally.
As Farah looks to elevating the brand’s image internationally he is committed to attracting top-tier individuals at all parts of the company and “cross-pollinating talent on a worldwide level to execute and grow the business.”
With Farah’s help, Polo Ralph Lauren, a company that began with a man selling ties he created, has managed to weather the recent fiscal storm and continue to expand. Ralph Lauren always been a pioneering company and Farah is ready to accommodate the changing retail environment. Committed to merchandise and business innovation, the company will “continue to invest in young people and new ideas.”