Fashion Exec Keeps Business Skills on Point with CEIBS GEMBA

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As Global Purchasing Manager for H&M, Alcalá is responsible for setting the global purchasing strategy for the brand’s menswear category. Bolivian by birth, she manages a diverse team of more than 50 people in locations around the world and is responsible for identifying long- and short-term buying opportunities to secure the best customer purchasing strategies. She’s been with H&M since 2008, joining the company as Product Manager for China and Asia. Prior to that, she held positions at Hugo Boss and the Cortefiel Group in Madrid.   


Though she already earned a Master’s degree in International Business, Trade and Commerce from Spain’s Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in 2004, she enrolled in the CEIBS Global Executive MBA Programme to ensure her business and management skills stay fresh. “It will accelerate my growth as I will be able to immediately apply and test what I learn with my team, peers, and key H&M stakeholders,” she says.


She expects that the GEMBA will also help her navigate the challenges brought on by the digital transformation of the fashion industry. Consumers now want more fashion, at faster speed, with more convenience and affordability, and competition is fiercer than ever, she says. 

CEIBS Global EMBA 2017 Opening Module


Alcalá wants to improve both her hard and soft skills through the GEMBA Programme, and to be able to advance her career by taking on broader roles and responsibilities within the H&M organisation.


 “It’s becoming increasingly complex to be at the top,” she says. “From my view, the fashion industry will need fully-rounded executives that have a full value chain perspective instead of a silo view with one area of expertise. This is where the GEMBA will be especially helpful to provide me with a well-rounded business perspective, allowing me to design, plan, and execute stronger initiatives to keep H&M as a leading player in the industry.


Alcalá says she is enjoying every minute of the CEIBS Global EMBA programme so far. The first module, which focused on leadership, not only helped her better understand her own leadership style and how to inspire others, she says it brought the whole class together as a team.  


She is also glad to have the opportunity to learn from classmates in other industries – there are more than 10 industries represented in her 60-person cohort. With her extensive international experience, it’s no surprise that she is the Foreign Ambassador of the Class Committee, responsible for connecting her class with others at CEIBS as well as business schools abroad.


That she can do the CEIBS Global EMBA in Shanghai is an additional benefit. Her ‘China dream’ began while she was still in university, and became intrigued by news of the country’s unprecedented growth and potential. She had planned to spend a year studying China at Fudan University, but was forced to abandon that plan after the SARS epidemic hit. “My China dream never faded away,” she says. “I kept studying Chinese every week and learning about what was happening in the country, waiting for the right opportunity to appear.”

Now, after a decade of living in Shanghai, she is still enthusiastic about her decision. “After living in so many different countries I don’t think there is one perfect place, but I think China has so much to offer,” she says. “I love that in China the world doesn’t stop on Sundays. I love WeChat, and paying through my mobile phone. I love that there is always some new construction; the city renews itself every year. I also love that Chinese people are unafraid of change, both in their personal lives and in business.”


She has certainly witnessed a lot of change during her time here, especially within her own industry. For example, she notes that the Chinese attitude towards fashion is a lot different now than it was when she first arrived. Ten years ago, consumers were focused on getting the best deal on a pair of jeans; today she says they are more concerned about how good the jeans will make them look. These changes have come about in part because rising incomes have increased consumer spending, but also because the internet gives people more information and awareness of international brands and fashion trends, Alcalá explains.


She still remembers when she first arrived 10 years ago and there was a consistently underdeveloped retail market, whereas now China has become a world leader on retail innovation with the “New Retail” approach, led by the digital giants, that combines offline and online shopping. “This only can happen in China in terms of speed and scale; it’s a unique place,” says Alcala.


When asked about the challenges of working in China, she instantly pivots with an optimistic response. “I find the local Chinese’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for growth to be a permanent energy booster; I’m really hooked on it,”she says. “China is a place that if you come with an open mind, and the willingness to learn and respect the culture, it is consistently less challenging than people might think. The reality is that it’s also a fast-paced market that constantly requires making decisions with imperfect information, and it can be challenging at times, until you get used to it and leverage it to grow faster.”  


For those interested in exploring the opportunities in China, Alcalá suggests being prepared for surprises. “The unexpected is the expected,” she counsels. “The rules of the game are not the same as we might be used to in the western world, but try to find common connections – either on the business or personal side – to really facilitate your stay in China and your career growth.”


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