Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.
Puma veteran Anne-Laure Descours, who joined the company in 2012, was promoted to chief sourcing officer and added to the firm’s management board in February. And although much of her expertise is in product, she also has a wealth of knowledge for any woman looking to grow within the athletic industry.
Here, Descours talks about the benefits of working in Hong Kong in the ’90s, barriers to female leadership and the power of being part of a strong team.
Talk about your career path in your own words — what were the biggest tipping points for you that led you to this point?
“The greatest tipping point was coming to Hong Kong for work in the ’90s. Hong Kong is the place that gives opportunities for those who really want to develop and grow themselves. In this city, speed and adaptability is everything, you end up reinventing yourself all the time. In addition to that, gender issue is not a topic in Hong Kong; it’s about what you can deliver. It’s a very competitive, but fair place.”
What has been your biggest career accomplishment and why?
“My biggest achievement actually is that I have managed to accomplish the two things that I love most at the same time: my kids and my work. I do love both. But it’s a myth to think you can have it all. You must accept that at times you will struggle to fulfill both roles 100%. I missed birthdays and parent-teacher conferences because I had work obligations — and I had my moments where I thought I was not a good mother. However, if you ask my three children, they say that they could not have imagined a better mum and they have turned out to be wonderful young adults.”
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?
“The women themselves. Women tend to feel insecure and still have to overachieve to get noticed. And quite often, there is a perception that a woman is in her role because a quota must be fulfilled. I think it is important to strike the balance between knowledge and personality, between being strict but fair, but not to overdo it on either side.”
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support them?
“I have been mentoring younger women and I think it is very important to manage this generation’s expectations. The journey is not a fairy tale, but when you embark on it, balancing and adapting the different needs of your personal and your professional life is key. It’s about making choices and believing in yourself. And last but not least: Build up a strong group of girlfriends. A key factor in my achievements has been my girlfriends. Living far away in a foreign country, they replaced my family and supported me with taking care of my children when I had to travel, believed in me when I doubted myself and were always there when I just needed them.”
Have you encountered resistance when working under — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?
“I only met a very few men where I experienced resistance — more in the sports industry than in the fashion industry, though. But I understood very early that the best way to handle it was to treat it as a challenge, because it’s part of the game. These situations do help to grow, make you better, smarter and more professional. It also makes you learn patience, persistence and negotiation skills. And it’s really good fun to prove these men wrong.”
What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced?
“My best moments have always been around my team’s success, particularly when we managed to make impossible projects possible. For me, it has always and will always be about the team. No leader can be successful without a committed group of people working together and sharing the same values and ethics.”
What advice do you have for women negotiating a salary increase, promotion or other challenging issue at work?
“I do admit that I am the worst person when it comes to my own salary negotiations, but building a strong network within your organization does help. And from my experience, being nice, open and trustable will always pay off.”
How has #MeToo changed the professional landscape and your workplace specifically?
“In Hong Kong, #MeToo has not really been a major topic, so I cannot say that much has changed. Having said that, my takeaway from the #MeToo movement is about making sure that our difference as women is taken into account as we should not be forced to adapt to a masculine model. Ensuring gender and culture diversity is the foundation for any company’s success.”
What is the best career decision you’ve ever made — and the worst?
“I can’t recall bad decisions, but I can recall failures which turned out to be my best learnings. You only get better and improve yourself when you go through rough times. My best decision, however, was to join Puma. So far it’s been an amazing journey in an amazing company with amazing people.”
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