Project Description

Sylvie Freund-Pickavance

Director, Value Retail

After graduating, she pursued a career in the luxury industry. From Cartier and De Beers to Princesse tam.tam, she gained experience all across the globe. Today, she works for Value Retail, the leading operator of luxury shopping outlets. 

  • In a nutshell, how would you describe your career so far? 

Right after graduation, I went to live in Asia for almost eight years, then five years in America and the last fourteen years in London – apart from two years when I was professionally based in Paris. I have always had the chance to work internationally both in terms of where I lived and in terms of my work scope. I also worked for very large established companies, as well as start-ups. So I think the word “varied” would best describe my career so far.


  • How did you manage your job entry?

I had a very traditional view of work when I left ESCP where I had majored in planning and accounting. I was going to work for Arthur Anderson (former “Big Five” accounting firm) but reinvented myself as a marketer, thus my first job was in marketing at Procter & Gamble in Paris.

However, I had also studied Mandarin during my years at ESCP and I learnt that they had just signed an exchange agreement with a Chinese university. So even though I had already graduated, I went to see the dean of ESCP and asked if I could be sent as the first person as part of this agreement. They said “yes” and I took a sabbatical from P&G, went to China and never came back!

The first day I arrived the dean of Shenzhen University welcomed me and asked me: “What language are your courses taught in at ESCP in Paris?” I said, “In French”. It turned out that they didn’t even teach French at Shenzhen University and so the dean asked me to set up a French language department. At the age of 21 I gave French classes in front of 250 Chinese students! It was an incredible experience. And great for my Chinese, as so many students sought me out for private French tutoring – which I exchanged for Mandarin tutoring. I became fluent in Chinese in less than six months.

I wanted to stay and work there but then the Tiananmen events happened in 1989. All foreigners were leaving China. So I focused my job search on Hong Kong and the luxury brands industry. I got a job at Cartier where I stayed for thirteen years.

“You need a very balanced left and right brain”
  • What made you choose the luxury industry and how was your time in Hong Kong?

I was always fascinated by the luxury industry and tried to enter it in Paris. But it was a very closed world back then: they valued more whether you were the son of whomever than your actual capabilities. However, in Hong Kong I got in and I had to set up a training program for sales partners across the Asia Pacific region.

I developed the program and delivered the training all throughout Asia: I travelled from China to New Zealand, from India to Hawaii. It gave me a deep understanding of the distribution landscape, the products and the type of customers.

After doing this for one and a half year, I became head of marketing for several product categories. My role was to be an interface between the Asian market and the product development in Paris: both, adapting and introducing the categories to other market areas as well as feeding back market specific information to the head office.

After another couple of years, I became head of retail in Asia. I did this for five years, developing the retail presence of Cartier throughout Asia.


  • What qualities are needed in the luxury industry and why did you succeed in this environment?

I think you need a very balanced left and right brain. Luxury is about creativity, intuition and about creating a dream – as much as it is a business.

I think you need to be drawn to the international world, and have a natural affinity to art, be quite sophisticated, in order to understand the subtleties of what makes a luxury brand a luxury brand. It’s not just a price and quality. There’s a lot more to it and that’s hard to teach.

“The economic power of the place is tremendous”
  • Today, you work for Value Retail. What do they do and what’s your job?

Value Retail develops and manages high-end, luxury shopping centres. All our centres are called Villages and are by definition a bit outside of a major city. The company’s business model is a unique blend of real estate, retail, tourism, and hospitality, and we are considered by many of our brand partners as the best operator worldwide. We have nine of these Villages (=centres) in Europe in seven countries and one in China near Suzhou.

Right now, we are building a second Village in China, which will be located on the new Disney Resort that is being built in Pudong, next to Shanghai. This resort will be Disney’s biggest resort worldwide when it is completed, and we are Disney’s retail partner.

As Group Strategy and Business Development Director, my role is to think of how to get the company ahead of the curve. My focus is on developing the next stage of evolution for the business; it is about new ideas, innovation, strategy and business development.


  • The Villages are extremely popular among tourists, especially Chinese?

Indeed. In the UK, Bicester Village is actually the number one tourist destination outside of London. In fact, 80% of Chinese people who get a visa for England come to Bicester Village. It’s astonishing.

When David Cameron asked the Chinese premier “What can I do to have more Chinese come to England?” the premier replied, “Build more Bicester Villages”. The economic power of the place is tremendous.

“Because I had lived and worked 17 years abroad, I myself had changed.”
  • How did you balance your personal life with your professional career?

I met my husband in Hong Kong, and we have three daughters. One born in Hong Kong, one in New York, and one in London. I have been very fortunate to have a real partnership with my husband, so we really share responsibility over our family. Also, I’m lucky to have good help at home to support the daily logistics and organization.

The other trick is to make conscious choices and to live those choices fully without regretting what you decided not to do. When I work – I work, and when I am with my family, I am fully with them. I always had to travel for work, and my children grew up used to see me, and not see me. They knew I think of them and I would always come back. When I would be home we would spend quality time together. Today, they are 18, 16, and 10 years old and they are balanced and quite autonomous!


  • What cultural differences have you observed while living in Hong Kong, New York, London and Paris?

I have always been very curious about other people and their way of life. As a result, I never had issues to adapt to new cultures. Paradoxically, my hardest adaptation was when I went back to France as CEO of Princesse tam.tam.

I thought I came back home, and expected people to blend in. What I didn’t realize was, because I had lived and worked 17 years abroad, that I myself had changed. I was a French national but I was not so French anymore in the way I tackled issues and interacted with others.

However, I also found out that there are many similarities across cultures: people are people at the end of the day. For example, Chinese are famous for something called “face”. A Chinese person hates “loosing face”, and will resent the person they consider responsible for it. But when you think about it no one likes to loose face, no one likes to be made a fool. Chinese put a bit more emphasis on it but at the end of the day it’s the same for everyone around the world.

I think there are basic values that make up a person, which resonate in every location. Just like certain physical behaviour: smiling is understood in every single culture, eye contact is understood everywhere, etc. Be aware of the differences and embrace them but also look for similarities.

“The journey is as important as the end result”
  • In retrospective, how did you get to where you are now?

I think it’s a combination of having a clear idea of where you would like to go and pushing for it on a constant basis. A lot of people know what they don’t like but not what they do like. It means that they manage their career in a negative way. I was always very clear about what I wanted, where I wanted to be and what I liked. I think that helped me a lot.

Also, be open and therefore receptive to opportunities that cross your path. The journey is as important as the end result and last but not least: You can do nothing on your own. You have to make sure that you can work with other people. That’s very important.


  • Thanks for sharing your story.