Alejandra Caro

  • Degree Programme: MBA
  • Global Nationality: Spanish
  • Profile Job Post-programme: Marketing Director at Harrods
Having built a successful career in banking, Alejandra Caro (MBA2014) decided to pursue a life-long passion for luxury. Today, the Marketing Director for Harrods explains how our MBA programme helped her pivot into the luxury market.

I was born and raised in Madrid, where from a young age I loved fashion and luxury. When I was a child, I remember my grandmother having a game box made of blue Russian leather and wood. It was so beautifully crafted that I was completely captivated by it. As I got older, this interest manifested itself in a love of fashion. I started reading Vogue when I was nine; I was fascinated by the clothes and the photographs. I’ve always thought fashion is one of the most beautiful art forms because it’s three dimensional and allows each of us to express our personality.

Growing up, I went through various personal situations that made me want to take charge of my life, which is why I set my sights on a career in business. I thought about studying fashion design, but creativity was never my greatest strength. I always had a talent for business and numbers so I decided to study Business Administration and Finance at CUNEF University in Madrid.

In my final year at CUNEF, I started a banking internship at Merrill Lynch in Madrid, and almost immediately fell in love with the role and the finance industry. I spent a year working on equity-structured projects in Latin America, where I’d go to university in the morning and work US hours in the evening during my internship. It was hard work, but I loved it. And I discovered that I worked well with both the fast-paced environment and global nature of the role. So much so, that I decided that banking was the industry for me.

“The MBA gives you a complete business toolkit that can be applied to numerous different functions and industries”

In 2007, I landed a role at Barclays Investment Bank in London. At the time, structuring was one of the most desirable areas to work in; it was just before the financial crash and provided real opportunity to keep learning from very smart and driven individuals. It’s since gained a negative reputation due to perceived culture problems – long hours and a high-pressure environment – but my experience was always incredibly positive and I met some incredible mentors there. I joined the Asset-Backed Securities Structuring division in a technical, analytical role. I was fast-tracked to associate level in just two years, going on to join the Financial Institutions Coverage division working with the Spanish and Portuguese banks.

In 2012, after five years at Barclays, I found myself thinking about a career change. I’d learnt a lot and enjoyed the fast-paced culture, but had started to realise that a banking career was never part of my long-term plan. Fashion, and luxury in particular, had always been the path I wanted to follow. I knew that if I wanted to make a change, now was the time to do it.

Pivoting from banking to luxury wasn’t going to be easy, so I sought out advice from an expert on how to make the transition. I reached out to Ian Hardie, who was previously LBS’s Associate Dean running the School’s Executive Education department, and went on to set up LVMH House. Ian is a renowned mentor in the luxury community and responsible for helping many of the industry’s top executives land their biggest roles. We connected on LinkedIn and he was generous enough to have several conversations with me, which culminated in his suggestion that an MBA would be the best way to broaden my skillset and develop my network. Working in London, I knew that LBS was one of Europe’s leading business schools, so I applied straightaway.

After joining LBS, I discovered that there was no dedicated luxury management programme, so I set about changing that. Walpole – the UK’s official sector body for luxury brands – had started working with LBS the year before and they were exploring how to take the partnership forward. Along with Walpole’s former Director Mark Henderson and Chief Operating Officer Charlotte Keesing, LBS’s Nader Tavassoli, Professor of Marketing and Gareth Howells, former Executive Director of Academic Programmes; we created the LBS Walpole Luxury Management Programme, which is now offered as part of the MBA.

MBA students with a passion for luxury now have direct access to the UK’s leading authority and key executives in the sector – which is incredible for people looking to transition or further their careers in this field. Being involved in the creation of such a programme was an amazing experience. Working with Nader to create the programme and be part of the curriculum ideation with key stakeholders, gave me an invaluable insight into the industry. It was a privilege to be able to learn marketing directly from Nader, it also connected me with various mentors that gave me the chance to begin my career in luxury.

“The projects I worked on with Walpole and the British Fashion Council allowed me to build my experience, knowledge and presence in the industry”

The MBA allows you to focus on what you want, even if it’s not covered by the curriculum. Setting up the programme with Walpole was just one example of the flexible and encouraging atmosphere; I was also able to take a custom elective on a project with the British Fashion Council, working with Jeff Skinner, Executive Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The focus was on creating the Commercialising Creativity Report, which consisted of case studies and interviews with a range of designers, businesses and industry stakeholders to highlight the importance of commercial guidance and specialist business partners for up-and-coming designers. Going from a career in banking to suddenly working with the British Fashion Council was truly inspirational. It helped me be part of bigger conversations and learn directly from experts in an industry I’d always wanted to be part of. It’s unlikely I would have been able to take on such a project at any other school, but LBS gave me the freedom to pursue it.

In a practical sense, the MBA gives you a complete business toolkit that can be applied to numerous different functions and industries. We live in a complex world, and how to deal with ambiguity and lead a business through uncertainty are all things we focused on, as well as how businesses can create cultures that are adaptable to change. During the pandemic, it’s not technical knowledge that has made leaders and businesses successful, but human skills and an understanding of the wider context. Peer to peer learning it is also one if the best parts of LBS, which is something that continues after the MBA through interactions with the alumni community.

I joined the MBA with the sole intention of pivoting into the luxury industry and the projects I worked on with Walpole and the British Fashion Council allowed me to build my experience, knowledge and presence in the industry. In fact, it was conversations with very generous and inspirational mentors that helped me land a role at LVMH, a French multinational luxury corporation, in 2014 as a Corporate Strategist. I spent the next three years commuting from London to Paris – an exhausting but exhilarating experience that allowed me to get my first break in the industry. After three years in Paris, I returned to London to work as a part of a newly appointed management team at Thomas Pink as Merchandising Director. It was a fascinating project, I was there for three years before deciding to take some time away from work for maternity leave.

“Going from a career in banking to suddenly working with the British Fashion Council was truly inspirational. It’s unlikely I would have been able to take on such a project at any other school, but LBS gave me the freedom to pursue it”

In January 2021, I became Marketing Director for Harrods, a role that I secured after working on the Harrods shop floor during my time at LBS. When I was setting up the programme with Walpole, I worked closely with Michael Ward, Walpole’s Chief Executive who was also Managing Director at Harrods. He knew I wanted to break into the industry, and thought that working on the shop floor would be a great way to build my knowledge. It gave me the opportunity to understand the customers, products and get an insider’s view of how the business functioned. I kept in contact with Michael after graduating from LBS and when I was coming to the end of my maternity leave, he told me that they were looking for a Marketing Director, I can’t express how grateful I am to Michael for all the opportunities he has given me through my career.

As we emerge from the pandemic and look to the future, I truly believe that the luxury industry is set to thrive. People now care about sustainability and it is value that the luxury industry embodies, with products that are high quality and made with expertise and care. Products that are built to last are an antidote to waste and fast fashion – they can be used for years and are something you will want take care of and repair. It supports the continuity of traditional crafts and specialist businesses, ensuring knowledge is transferred and maintained for new generations. Buying something you’ll still use in 70 years resonates with the values we hold today and is something I believe we’ll see more of as the world continues to adopt a more conscious mindset when it comes to fashion.

Learn more about where our MBA programme could take you.