Ralph Lauren – a nuanced visionary

“There is a way of living that has a certain grace and beauty. It is not a constant race for what is next, rather, an appreciation of that which has come before. There is a depth and quality of experience that is lived and felt, a recognition of what is truly meaningful. These are the feelings I would like my work to inspire. This is the quality of life that I believe in.” Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren bookThat sense of meaning, along with his very real creative talents and leadership qualities, has helped make the Ralph Lauren Corporation clothing company into a global multi-billion-dollar enterprise and lifestyle brand.

As Lauren adds in his autobiography Ralph Lauren (the source of the above quote, and the image) :

“I’ve always believed one could live many lives through the way we dress and the places we travel to, even if just in our imagination. The world is open to us, and each day is an occasion to reinvent ourselves.

“What I do is about living. It’s about living the best life you can and enjoying the fullness of the life around you – from what you wear, to the way you live, to the way you love.”

He started early as an ambitious entrepreneur: “He was known by his classmates for selling ties to his fellow students. In his yearbook he stated under his picture that he wanted to be a millionaire.” [From Wikipedia profile.]

But – as with many leaders – people’s reactions to Lauren have ranged from adulation and admiration to far less positive.

In the unauthorized bio Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, author Michael Gross comments, “If you like him, he’s one of the most creative, powerful, and driven entrepreneurs in the world. If you don’t, he can seem a megalomaniacal control freak. What he’s not is ordinary. Neither is his life, which is both grand and hermetic.

“His confidence borders on arrogance, but he is simultaneously uncomfortable in his own skin, rarely socializing outside a close circle of employees, family and friends.”

Although initially seeking out Michael Gross to write a biography, Lauren changed his mind because, instead of the “overall picture of his working career,” Gross insisted on including his private life, and Lauren was very uncomfortable with that, as Gross quotes him, “…not because I feel guilty but because people will buy it for the wrong reasons. It can be promoted for the wrong reasons. It’s not my life; it’s not who I am. I have nothing to be embarassed about. I don’t have problems, but I have nuances.”

But a Newsday review describes how “Genuine Authentic” can be of value to other entrepreneurs, saying “Gross walks the deft line of being sympathetic to Lauren the man without ever exactly flattering him (or, for that matter, cutting him to ribbons).

“He tells how Lauren evolved from a highly style-conscious kid in the Bronx to a salesman and then designer of neckties, to the head of a $10 billion international business. He lays out the minutiae of business deals gone wrong and explains how Lauren and his associates managed to pull back from the brink of financial disaster more than once.

“He also bares many of the problems that plagued Lauren’s creative team over the years – namely, Lauren’s tendency to ride his people hard, throwing tantrums when they were unable to read his mind, demanding from them a kind of perfection that could exist only inside his head.”

The review adds that “Gross occasionally makes Lauren out to be a tyrant, he’s also aware of Lauren’s complexities. Gross shows us a man who’s narcissistic and troubled, but he’s also forthright about the ways in which Lauren is likable, charming and admirable.”

Some related Talent Development Resources pages:

Vocation / calling | Leadership | Fashion / costume design

Ego / narcissism | Hypomania | Perfectionism

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Article publié pour la première fois le 27/10/2007

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