Lessons Learned from Valentino

I just watched the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor in which a film crew followed Italian designer Valentino around for about 2 years. It was a really fascinating look at one of the most creative and influential designers of the century. As I watched the documentary, and drooled over the amazing dresses he designed, it occurred to me that entrepreneurs can learn from his career.

In my opinion he did some things really right and a few things really wrong:

Valentino’s Smart Career Moves:

1. Doing the one thing he loved and was passionate about for a living.

Apparently the only thing he ever wanted to do, from the time he was a child, was design beautiful clothes for beautiful women.

I once heard multi-millionaire Ross Perot say that if you do what you love the money will follow and I think that is very true.

2. Choosing a partner who supported his career and who had complimentary skills.

Giancarlo Giammetti and Valentino have been both business and personal partners for 50 years. Giancarlo is the business mind behind their operation. He has spent 50 years running the business so that Valentino could focus on the one thing he loves doing: making beautiful clothes.

I am convinced that no entrepreneur can be successful if his/her partner/spouse isn’t supportive of the endeavor.

Valentino’s Possibly Poor Choices:

1. Not taking more interest in finances.

The documentary never explicitly says that Valentino didn’t manage his money well but it is implied. He has numerous palatial homes, a yacht, a plane, and all the toys that we expect the uber-rich to have. However, the documentary mentions that other fashion designers have often wondered how Valentino makes so much money because, knowing the business as they do, they feel that the margins don’t support that kind of lifestyle.

In 1998 Valentino sold his company (and, in reality, his name) to an Italian conglomerate HdP for $300 million. Valentino remained with the company as creative director. From 1998 – 2002 it seems that Valentino’s day-to-day life wasn’t impacted by his investors – they let him design what he wanted.

In 2002, HdP sold the brand to Marzotto Apparel for $210 million and that is when investors started to make demands of Valentino that he hated. They used his name to sell handbags, fragrances, and other high margin items that Valentino didn’t like or support. On September 4, 2007 Valentino tearfully announced that he would retire fully from the world stage after his last Haute-Couture show in Paris.

I was sad when I watched him retire. Yes, he was more than 70 years old but he was giving up the job he loved because he could no longer control the creative direction of his own company.

If you don’t control your finances someone else will and financial control equals control over every decision you make. Every entrepreneur should remember this lesson. Bill Cosby once said that the advice he gives to all young actors is to “sign your own checks” and to always control the money. Very wise.

Valentino is a recognized genius in his field and he gave the world so much beauty. I wonder if he would have continued to design beautiful clothes if he were still financially in charge of his company?

Read the original here: Liz Handlin’s Ultimate Resumes Blog