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Posted: 22 Nov, 2021

On 9th November, the third session of TMA NOW’s Spotlight Series took place. The Spotlight Series aims to shine a light on leading women in the restructuring, distressed and insolvency space. This session saw Berta Escudero and Federica Pietrogrande, both Managing Directors at Gordon Brothers, discussing some of the challenges facing traditional retail companies and how the ABC model can be a way out for brands in crisis. They also talked about their personal journeys and key experiences during their careers.

If you missed the session or would like to watch it again, you can find the recording here.

Opening the webinar, Daniela Pontonutti, TMA NOW Committee Member and a Manager in Gordon Brothers’ Financial Planning & Analysis team, asked Berta to share some of her experiences of the many different roles she has held and how they led her to her current position as Managing Director of Retail at Gordon Brothers. After gaining her Masters in Industrial Engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid Berta said she didn’t know what she wanted to be, only that she wanted to learn and travel. She joined Procter & Gamble because they offered both. Since then, Berta said she has always sought out global roles, working with global teams and so has learnt a lot about different markets and different sectors. The key to enjoying your career, Berta said, is to find your passion and pursue it.

Speaking about her own career leading up to becoming a Managing Director at Gordon Brothers, Federica said that when she chose to study law at university she intended to become a journalist and writer. However, upon qualifying as a lawyer, she went to work for a large law firm in Italy where the training she received and opportunities she was exposed to fed her curiosity and desire to do more international work. She developed a ‘yes’ attitude and when asked to move to the New York office she went. After another move to Italy then again to New York, Federica was offered a job at Gordon Brothers with a role that was tailored her expertise. Seeking a new challenge, she accepted the job, leaving her established legal career to learn something new.

Speaking about her experience as a woman in the legal profession, Federica said that her time in the US showed her that it was okay to be a woman, to be ambitious and to succeed. Whilst in Italy women had a very different approach to their careers, in the US she saw lots of examples of successful and ambitious women which gave her the confidence and freedom to strive. During her career, Berta said she has often been the only woman in the room, but has never considered herself as a minority. Her attitude has always been to challenge herself to venture outside her comfort zone and to believe that she is good enough, regardless of her gender. Federica agreed that attitude is important and is what defines most of your career.

On the subject of attitude, Daniela shared a question from an audience member who asked if Federica and Berta have opinions on why many women struggle with confidence when it comes to their careers. Federica said that she has often noticed amongst her girlfriends that if they do not fit all the points in a job description they do not go for the role, thinking they are not ready. Most men would not have the same hesitation. Federica thinks this attitude stems from education. When she was a child in Italy, Federica said girls were taught to be safe, not to take risks and to be kind and likable, whereas boys were taught to be bold, brave and adventurous. These messages have a big impact. The good news is that Berta thinks self-esteem is something you can develop. Her advice was to start by identifying the things you do best and to build on self-confidence from there.

Sharing some advice for women just starting out in their career, Berta said the key is to find your passion and get very good at it. She also said young professionals would benefit from building their network so they can learn and get advice from as many different people as possible. Federica’s advice was to study and work hard. Whilst successful careers can be summarised with defining cases, books written, and roles undertaken, they are built on hard work and there are no short-cuts.

Moving on to the subject of the session, Daniela asked Berta to explain the ABC model. ABC stands for Assetless Brand Company. Berta explained that in an Assetless Brand Company, the essence of the brand remains but everything else from manufacturing to sales to real estate is outsourced to licensees. When looking at whether a brand has the strength to transition to the ABC model, Gordon Brothers looks at the various channels through which the brand’s products have been sold such as in-store, online or as concessions in department stores. The brand must be recognisable and have enough inherent IP value to make a successful transition to assetless. Gordon Brothers also looks at whether the brand has an international presence.

Last year, Gordon Brothers assessed the Laura Ashley brand determining it was strong enough to become an ABC. They bought the brand in April 2020. As an iconic and well-loved brand with international reach they have transitioned Laura Ashley to an ABC, liquidating the struggling UK stores and working to form license agreements including with Next who currently sell the brand in the UK. Federica said that the beauty of the assetless model is you can focus on what counts – the brand, the identity, and the story you want to tell. It is therefore essential to source the right licensing partners who understand the brand and will guarantee consistency of brand positioning, quality and values. Having already secured a licensing agreement in the brand’s ‘home’, Gordon Brothers are also working to form agreements with partners throughout Europe and Asia.

Thank you to Daniela, Berta and Federica for their time and to everyone who joined the session. As many TMA UK events return to physical venues you can see the full schedule of upcoming events on our website here

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