In thinking about the genesis, evolution and success of the FIT Master’s Degree Program, it’s well documented that from its inception, invaluable contributions of time, effort and guidance came from many senior level professionals in the business and academic communities. Among them were two visionaries whose ideas and ideals helped to shape a course of study acknowledged by 140 graduates, (nearly 20 now at the corporate vice president level) to be the not-so-secret story of their success. Those two pioneers, Annette Green, president emeritus, The Fragrance Foundation and Professor Stephan Kanlian, chairperson of the master’s degree program, sat down with the Forum to talk about the early days of the program and to share their views on the industry as a whole.
Annette Green recalls that, in the early 80s, the initial reaction to an idea she had presented to FIT, was that the study of cosmetic and fragrance marketing didn’t belong in a fashion college. However, wisdom prevailed, and the Cosmetic & Fragrance Marketing Program, with a Bachelor of Science degree, was hatched.
By 1988, the program had taken wing and, in 1993, the half million dollars raised at a gala honoring Green was earmarked to expand the program and create the Annette Green/Fragrance Foundation Fragrance Studio. As the program expanded, industry leaders expressed interest in the development of a master’s degree program.
Enter Stephan Kanlian in 1999, whose background as a business diplomat, trade journalist and international marketing professional was a combination that proved useful to the task at FIT. He came on board with the idea that the program should operate as an executive development think tank. It seemed natural to him that the first step was to define the discipline and quantify the skill sets necessary for executives to succeed in the industry today. A year later, with a curriculum hammered out, and an industry advisory board and faculty in place, the program received approval from the State University of New York.
But – just out of curiosity - how is it that so many industry icons – Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubenstein and Estée Lauder, to name a few, were so incredibly successful without the benefit any special training? What made them so successful in their day? How do you think the industry has changed, we asked Kanlian, and do the changes mandate advanced leadership training as essential to success?
In Kanlian’s view, the business began as an entrepreneurial, cottage industry whose strength lay in its intimate terms with consumers - still the industry’s key strength, he concedes. The world and the consumer, however, have changed. While the pioneers had to cultivate an aspirational image, 21st century leadership, he says, requires a much different skill base; one that encompasses both analytical ability and instinct. But, at the end of the day, he added, what Elizabeth, Helena, and Estée understood is as true today as it was then: “we are judged by our product.”
Once the criteria for the program was set, the strategy was to update and even reformulate the curriculum on a continuing basis, so as to capture the best of both traditional business education and innovative platforms for executive development around the world. To that end, courses are added and enhanced to keep pace with changes in business. At the same time, as Kanlian stressed, students already endowed with a body of knowledge and experience, along with the program’s access to skilled practitioners for live case studies, have contributed to the program’s reputation for tackling the real issues of the business world and identifying innovative solutions. Kanlian went on to emphasize that this graduate business program is among the first to address the management aspect of creative functions, and probably the only program wherein mentoring is an actual course.
Integral to the program, too, is the Fragrance Innovation course taught by Pamela Vaile in the Annette Green/Fragrance Foundation Fragrance Studio. According to Green, a recognized expert with a long and illustrious career in the industry, “fragrance is key to the success of a wide range of products from skin and hair care to bath, body and home, as well as in the creation of perfume and its related fragrance forms. “The more knowledge a marketer has,” she said, “about the development of the appropriate and most appealing fragrances for the full range of products, the more effectively he or she can provide crucial direction and development of products which will lead the marketplace.”
With faculty members and students all engaged in the industry, does that create a dearth of fresh ideas, we wondered? “To the contrary,” Kanlian responded, “we don’t have to spend time on the basics of our industry…we are able, for example, to look at successful business models in other industries and make the application to beauty.” On the field studies abroad, students examine the retail, technology and food and beverage industries from which students learn valuable lessons in consumer communication, branding and merchandising.
Clearly, the program could only succeed with the full support of key industry companies. The Forum asked Kanlian how he managed to get so many top tier companies involved. “Naturally, there were concerns about competitive issues, but our industry supports pan-industry issues,” he said, “and over time we proved ourselves. We had dedicated champions - including trade association leaders, industry executives and CEOs – who helped clarify the level of learning and, as a result, the program grew exponentially."
That sentiment is echoed by the industry leaders who help guide the program. “Graduates emerge from the program empowered and encouraged to grow in their careers,” asserts board member Jerry Vittoria, president, Firmenich USA. “They are challenged to stretch boundaries and invited to break paradigms within the industry by the very professionals who shaped it. No other master’s program has the devotion of so many industry leaders willing to encourage and shape the future of the next generation."