Sense and sensibility: Maria Eugenia Giron applies the latest Harvard MBA thinking to classic Spanish jewelry maker Carrera y Carrera.

Author:Levine, Joshua
Position:Regional Report: Europe

Manuel Carrera proudly shows off a stingray he has sculpted in silver, encrusted with a natural geode that seems to grow out of it to form its wings. It's a bit on the florid side, but it's an impressive piece of workmanship. Carrera y Carrera has been doing this kind of thing in Madrid for 117 years, and it has made the Carrera family name renowned in Spain for intricately crafted jewelry and objects.

Manolo, the 63-year-old grandson of the founder, beams--at me but particularly at Maria Eugenia Giron (pronounced CHIron), who is standing next to me. She is a crisply elegant young woman with an engaging gap-toothed smile, and she looks oddly like a proud parent, which, in a way, she is. As chief executive of Carrera y Carrera, Giron has been Manuel Carrera's boss for the past three years--a move he willingly engineered. It was the smartest move he ever made, and he quite obviously adores her.

As well he should. When Giron and a group of investors took over Carrera y Carrera in a friendly management "buy-in," the company was stuck in its past. Its craftsmanship was exquisite but its design sensibility was more than a little old-fashioned. Carrera's traditional buyers loved the ornate, sculptural quality of its jewelry--a hallmark of the house and something that sets it apart from its competitors. But that market was getting smaller all the time. The company needed a makeover if its artisan tradition was to live on.

Enter Giron, a 37-year-old Madrid native with training as an industrial engineer and a Harvard MBA. Despite her technocrat background, Giron discovered she loved beautiful objects and had a tremendous respect for the artists who make them, even if she isn't one of them. "Harvard opened my mind to the fact that creativity could be organized and managed--that, in fact, creativity was a growth industry, and it needed all the talent it could get," she says.

That insight led Giron to Loewe SA, the luxury Spanish leather maker bought by LVMH in 1998. Loewe is where she learned that a well-managed brand could reconcile an apparent paradox: It could have a single, identifiable personality throughout the world and still manage to satisfy the widely disparate needs of different customers in different markets. Loewe is also where she met the colleague who would help her implement her ideas about how to manage them as chief executive.

British VC helps revamp Spanish tradition

In early 1999, Giron and Louis Urvois, her former boss and mentor...

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