The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
Meet Duty Free Development Consulting Founder and CEO David Dayan, a travel retail veteran whose diamond-studded career path is taking a new direction.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Paris; as they say, nobody is perfect. My parents were both French and my father was an ambassador so, wherever he went, we followed.
My early schooling was in Paris but when I was eight, we moved to the Central Africa Republic where I lived until I was 17. Our home had been an emperor’s palace in a city without real roads. I had a lot of contact with locals, especially African Pygmies and my memories are good ones; a mixture of friends, opulence and diamonds.
I had a private tutor which sounds grand but, to be honest, I ended up learning less about mathematics and more about lions and elephants and there were plenty of them about. I was told I looked a little like Tarzan but I can assure you that when you meet a pack of hyena you very quickly feel that to them you look more like an excellent dinner than Tarzan. Life in the jungle teaches you to know fear.
I had another nickname from the African military leader, Colonel Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who seized power in 1966. ‘Your majesty’, as we had to address him, was always surrounded by 20 armed bodyguards; he called me a little lion.
2. What was your first job as a teenager and what did that lead to?
When I was 14 years old my father arranged an after-school job for me. He thought I was spending too much time with my friends at the pool of the only hotel in town so I started to work in a local diamond factory. And it was through the patience and passion of Antwerp diamond dealers that I learnt all about the little stone that women find so precious.
In turn, I developed an interest in gemmology and, after over three years in the diamond cutting company, my teachers decided to send me to study at the only school that taught gemmology at that time in the USA, in Los Angeles.
I moved from the African jungle to an American megalopolis; alone for the first time in my life and in shock.
I lived the American dream, the one that every young person of that time dreamed of. After graduation I didn’t want to return to France, so I looked for ways to extend my visa and ended up studying Management and Marketing at Miami University. On graduation I returned to Paris.
3. So, back ‘home’ to Europe and the start of your career?
I thought I would find a job quickly in France but it wasn’t that easy. After a few months I struck gold. Van Cleef & Arpels wanted to move into the Asian market; I became their Purchasing Director, based in Thailand.
And, without any forward planning, I remained in Asia for 12 years. Asia was, and still is, a very special place for me. It has somehow provided moments which have paved my way forward. You could say hazard, or opportunity, always comes knocking on your door when you don’t expect it!
I was in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok, during a Van Cleef & Arpels charity evening, when I spotted Hubert de Givenchy. I had seen the Givenchy Founder in magazines and, as one Frenchman to another, I decided to talk to him. The next day I ended up guiding him through Bangkok, which I knew well at the time.
Two or three months later I received an envelope containing a note and an air ticket. Mr Givenchy wanted to see me in Paris. I was 24 years old and very, very happy to travel for the first time in first-class style.
4. And that opened another door?
Yes, it did. The company wanted to extend its international network. I insisted I had no experience in fashion and perfume; Mr Givenchy assured me that trust was more important.
In 1992 I joined Givenchy as Director Asia Pacific, based in Hong Kong. That was my first taste of travel retail. I travelled the world and each year moved to a different country in Asia, living in the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
In the late ‘90s I was approached by DFS and I stayed in Singapore for a further two years as Director of Operations in the T Galleria by DFS, Singapore.
By then, however, I was married with two young children, Laureen and Mickael. I was considering their education and decided to return to France and joined Lalique’s travel retail division.
And that led to another Asia-based tale. While I was visiting Korea, to open a Lalique store in Seoul, I met another Frenchman in a very small Korean restaurant. We exchanged business cards; Bernard Lacoste invited me to join him for lunch in Paris on my return to France. And that led to an exclusive partnership in travel retail which lasted for more than ten years.
In 2012 Lacoste acquired my company and, in 2013, I decided to move to Dubai.
5. And set up Duty Free Development Consulting?
Yes, but not immediately. I told myself I had retired, but my mind hadn’t. Dinners with friends and contacts kept me thinking and I realised that Dubai wasn’t just the ideal location in terms of weather and tax benefits; it’s also the crossroads for Asia and Europe. So I went back into business.With more than 25 years’ experience in travel retail I decided to open a consultancy company and pretty quickly opened offices in Paris, New York and Hong Kong.
I know travel retail; I live and breathe it. Five years on, with the help of a great team, I’ve introduced over 70 brands, including Rituals, Nuxe, La Maison de Chocolat, Eden Park, Puressentiel and Wolford, into travel retail. And now we are guiding IT Trattoria in airport and railway station dining and Orange Telecom is scheduled to launch in travel retail.
6. Tell us about your latest venture in the channel. Is David Dayan becoming a Foodie?
I have always enjoyed good food, especially Italian and Thai, but had no intention of getting into the F&B sector. Two years ago I was featured in a French television programme. It was watched by 12 million viewers and prompted a call from the two Italian brothers, Rento and Gio Iera, who founded IT Trattoria.
At first I wasn’t interested at all but they were persistent. It’s another long story but, voilà, here we are now with restaurants in Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports and Gare Montparnasse, Gare du Nord, Gare de Bordeaux Saint-Jean and Gare Saint Lazard railway stations.
I’m suddenly dealing with SSP, BTA Food and Services, Lagardère and HMS Host and many others F&B operators and airport authorities all over the world.
But, once again, I am not alone. My team has been great. They are all involved in this new adventure, especially Clemence Higle who is now responsible for this new department within my company.
This is very new for me; very interesting. The concept is contemporary; it’s fun, friendly and inexpensive and I believe it has a good future.
7. Crystal ball gazing: what are your predictions for the next five years in travel retail and the F&B sector?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball otherwise I would be out playing tomorrow’s lottery.
But in my opinion changes are coming. For years now airport consortia have been learning to manage commercial zones. Look at the Dubai and Istanbul hubs which have both demonstrated the capacity for management and profitability. I think that more and more brands will choose a direct path to open points of sale in airports.
I also believe that changes on local domestic markets over the past ten years, with the arrival of new brands which are more affordable, trendier, organic and so on, will very quickly enter the travel retail channel.
Healthy, good eating at an affordable price is the future of food as far as I am concerned. That’s the reason I have agreed to help the IT Trattoria brand and I have personally verified each Italian supplier, to ensure the validity of their concept. It’s a good one, with fresh, quality products cooked in front of you every day and pizza from €5.
8. Do you have a mentor?
That would have to be Michel Guten, the former Richemont President. He was a sales and diplomatic genius and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him during his tenure as Cartier Vice President and Lancel President.
He knew what it took to make Cartier the brand is today. Along with Richemont President Alain Dominique Perrin, Guten extended the brand to more than 40 countries. He was adored by his customers and his employees and his approach impacted my professional life.
9. What are your non travel retail-related interests?
They are few. I don’t have hobbies. My life revolves around travel retail and my family; my first two wives and my children. I am travelling most of the time and for that reason Kristina, my third wife, always travels with me.
As I grew older, I discovered a passion for teaching. Over the past two years I have been working to create the first bachelor’s degree in travel retail. The certificate is recognised by the French Ministry of National Education.
Teaching takes up 250 hours per year. I really enjoy ‘transmitting’ my knowledge to the students, and, at the same time, learning from the young generation with the tools of their time. I believe my students like that I pass on to them the reality of a company’s life, with its problems and successes. I think the combination of working in the industry and teaching at the same time gives my students a real vision of travel retail. The courses are very interactive and I’m looking to seeing the first graduates receive their diplomas at the end of this year.
I have a voice. My career and involvement with professionals and politicians to underline France’s role and know-how in areas such as duty free and travel retail led to a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur award for my influence in France’s development abroad.
These are my interests and, as you can see, they all revolve around the industry whatever I do.
10. Is there a David Dayan stop button?
A stop button? A delay button perhaps, but not a stop button.
I’m French; I’m still talking things over, usually grumpy, never happy. For sure, I’m French 😊. Seriously, I believe in joie de vivre. I love my life and I am, if you think about it, larger than life. I love the world and the challenge of discovery; I love people and the different cultures.
If someone comes to me with a crazy idea, I will consider it so maybe I am a bit crazy myself. Maybe I come from another planet? Who knows?
I do know that, for now, I will continue to work in travel retail because, at the moment, I can’t stop. Travel retail is my life. I think I will die on an aircraft or at a TFWA exhibition.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: