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.
In this edition we meet Tumi Director General Europe Damien Mignot, the language expert turned luggage specialist who has cycled and sailed half way across the world.
1. Tell us about your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?
I’m French, was born 51 years ago in Paris and I’m part of a family of four. I’ve been travelling all of my life. I lived in the States for a while with my parents and then I did my Master’s degree.
2. You completed your MBA at the prestigious ESSEC Business School. How did this prepare you for life in the working world?
Besides the obvious things you learn in business, I also learned a lot of languages here. So I can speak Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. It’s just my Polish that isn’t very good. When you get to the point where you have three kids, it becomes tough to learn at night! But all of these languages enhanced my learning opportunities, which is key when you want to do a global assignment.
I want my children to be citizens of the world, so language is one of the most important things.
3. Tell us about your time at Reckitt Benckiser in Sao Paulo. What were the highlights?
I think Brazil is definitely the country I enjoyed living in the most. Firstly, I could speak Portuguese which helped, but I think it’s a great country. Every day gives you another opportunity to start everything new. Although economics and politics are difficult, the people give you back a lot of energy so it’s really a country I am passionate about.
I think it’s the only country in South America which has less of an international influence. They still have their own music, their own movies and many other of their own things. They believe God is Brazilian! And in some respect, Brazilians act as if they have the prettiest country to live in. It doesn’t mean everything is nice and easy all the time but it’s my passion country.
I was in Brazil for three years. My daughter was born in Brazil and she always likes to be in the sun; she’s like a flower. And then my son was born in Poland so he always has a sweater on. Lastly, my baby girl was born in Paris.
4. Your career includes roles at Danone and L’Oréal. How did your experience at these companies shape your career?
When I started my career, I was really looking for where I could get the best marketing training, so that’s why I went for L’Oréal. At L’Oréal it’s really about fashionable products and quality. The company sets the bar very high in terms of the consumer and understanding consumer insights, so that’s probably what I took from my first job.
Danone was more about international experience. It’s really understanding about how a brand can bring something to another region. Danone is a French brand and when I had to negotiate an acquisition in Uruguay I had to meet the President of the country. In that country, when you buy an asset, you get to meet those kind of people so it’s quite interesting. You’re a bit of a brand ambassador or you’re an ambassador of France through the company you work for. And I thought that was quite interesting.
5. In 2016, you were appointed General Director Europe at Tumi. Tell us about your first year in the role and where you hope to take the company in future.
Well, I’ve always been driven by brands. So, I quite like to go for new challenges. I worked at Lipault [Samsonite acquired the luggage brand in 2014] for three years. And then when Tumi came along [acquired by Samsonite last year] I thought that was interesting as well. That was the biggest highlight within the company because Samsonite had never acquired such a big business. So it was really a step change for the company.
The challenge was to make it happen within Europe because the brand is underdeveloped in this region. It’s about making the brand more known, building the branding party and telling stories about the brand. There has been a lot of integration over the last 14 months and a challenge to keep all of the brand elements totally separate from Samsonite. When a company makes an acquisition, the only challenge it has is to really respect the brand DNA. The rest is just fixing integration or synergy.
Then you can look at some extra opportunities driven by the merger. So in our case, in airport retailing, we can go through our multibrand folder. We have our own travel retail stores called Rolling Luggage where we can push Tumi and we can do some side by side stores such as the one we just opened at Milan Linate Airport. We are much more versatile than we were before.
In terms of sourcing and product development, we have access to more technologies. We launched a suitcase back in May, which was produced in Europe. That was never the case before at Tumi.
It’s time now to boost the brand. Next year we are going to push even harder on marketing, also to support our women’s business. It currently accounts for around 15% of our sales and we believe we can go to 25-30% in the coming months.
6. You once sailed and cycled from Tibet to Paris. That must’ve been some challenge (mental and physical). What made you decide to take on such a task? What was your favourite part?
My girlfriend and I were both 27, had our careers, etc. But after four years of adult working life, we thought we would have more regrets not to leave than to stay. So yeah, we just went off. My girlfriend was from the Alps and I was more of a sailor, so we split the trip in half.
I was not so rich when I came out of L’Oréal so we did some delivery sailing. We took our boat from Europe to Polynesia, to a rental base there. It was an eight-month cruise across the Atlantic and the Caribbean; it was a great achievement. I’ve always dreamed to be a skipper but after eight months of skippering a boat, you’re happy to go back to business. We all have dreams. I could have been a dancer, I could have been a writer but being a sailor is something which is deep-rooted in my life. And now I know I love it. But it’s not my career.
When we went to Tibet, we were practising a lot of Aikido [Japanese martial art]. I was really into meditation and became attracted to Buddhism. At 4,000 or 5,000 metres up in the mountains you become Buddhist because you cannot run, you have to walk. So the only way to be independent was to ride a bicycle and then the bicycle became more of a tool to travel across the Tibetan plateau for three months. I actually named my eldest daughter after the Tibetan city Lhasa.
“If there’s one thing for me to get out of all these adventures, it’s that the world is still pretty large and there is so much to discover and learn”
7. The adventures didn’t stop there. In 2012, you took a sabbatical and cycled 3,000km across Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with your wife and four children. How was that experience? Favourite country?
After the cycling and sailing adventure I wrote a book, ‘L’Echappée Belle’ (the wonderful adventure), it was published and sold 35,000 copies. My eldest daughter was seven when she picked the book from the shelf and read the bit at the end which says when we have children, we’ll go back on the adventure. My daughter asked “When do we go?”, so the challenge came from the children.
I was lucky that Samsonite had some respect for this kind of project. So they let me go even though I was a general manager. They found somebody to take my position for ten months and my job was waiting for me when I came home. That was a very interesting year and the children did distance schooling.
Initially we did hiking and travelling by train in India and then we bought some bicycles for the whole family. We told the children it would only be for one month and it ended up being four months. So we went down from Burma across Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. And that was really tough. But, it was like Tibet 25 years before. Every night we waited for sunset so nobody saw us, then went into the monastery and were welcomed by the monks. So yeah, as a family it builds a bond.
8. You are obviously a sports enthusiast; what else do you like to do in your spare time?
My children taught me to surf so now I’m surfing. Surfing and skiing. I’m trying to do sports that I can practice with them because I don’t have that much time. I sometimes go golfing on the weekends then I’m working the rest of the week so there isn’t much time left.
Every few months, we usually find three or four days where we plan to have a long weekend and we all go surfing together. It’s one of the greatest things to see: My four kids, my wife and I on the boards.
“Every night we waited for sunset so nobody saw us, then went into the monastery and were welcomed by the monks”
9. If you had to settle in one country for the rest of your life, where would that be?
That’s an interesting question because I could say we would go back to Brazil. But at the same time, we really like to discover new countries, so it could be a country I’ve never been to. If it was a country that I know, I would go back to Brazil. Yeah, for sure. You can surf. It’s hot. It has nice people, nice landscape, etc.
10. Lastly, what has been your biggest achievement (professional or personal) in life?
The biggest achievement is that I’m always curious. I’m never tired of travelling, discovering new people, new cultures, new countries. And it is so important to me to transmit this to my children. So if there’s one thing for me to get out of all these adventures, it’s that the world is still pretty large and there is so much to discover and learn. That’s probably the main value, I think. If you look at my team, even in Paris, they’re from all over the world.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: