From burnout to luxury brand management: Re-energizing with a new passion

How do you know when to make a career change? Donald Kim left the tech industry to take the Global MBA at ESSEC, where he followed the Luxury Brand Management major. In this article, we hear about the factors behind his decision and why it, ultimately, was the right choice for Donald.

In short

Why transition from tech to luxury?

After having worked across the USA in companies such as Apple and Oracle, Donald started to fall out of love with the tech industry. This sparked two events that would see him make the jump to luxury goods. “I did experience burnout, number one. Number two: when I was thinking about what I could do, I realized I wanted to pursue my passion field in luxury,” Donald shares. (01:35)

If you’re new to the world of luxury products, it might be easy to think immediately of France, Switzerland, and other traditional centers of luxury goods. However, as Donald explains, the industry is worldwide. “The place where I grew up was mainly East Asia – it was Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea – [which] are big luxury capitals.” (06:46

Donald’s upbringing and his passion for watches, in particular, were decisive factors in his career change. He knew that channeling his efforts into an area he loved would lead to much greater fulfillment in the future.

Why choose ESSEC for luxury brand management?

Choosing which business school is never the easiest decision, and sometimes it comes down to unique circumstances. Regarding his choice, Donald thanks a mentor who was already established in the luxury brand management game. Drawing on his mentor’s inside knowledge of French institutions, Donald discovered the Global MBA in Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC Business School. Besides the quality of the course, the program only takes one year, making it perfect for a quick career transition. 

Although there is no replacement for some detailed personal research, advice from trusted mentors is a valuable source of information for those who can attain it. Donald eventually came full circle after his research. “During the research, when I started to really crystallize what I wanted to do…it was just by a natural process of elimination that ESSEC’s program seemed to be the perfect fit for what I was looking for,” he says. (03:11)

How intense is the ESSEC Global MBA?

The first thing to note about the ESSEC Global MBA is that, although it is only one year long, you certainly don’t leave anything by the wayside. Donald was happy to follow this intensive path, but recognizes that it’s not for the faint-hearted. He explains, “Essentially, you’re still experiencing a two-year curriculum crammed into one year.” (04:13

This means you’ve got contact time in a similar time structure to a full-time job – Monday to Friday, around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Donald describes his typical day: “A day for me could look like 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.: I have my morning finance class. And then, from 1 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.: I would have a class specializing in wines and spirits or a class specializing in fashion or a class specializing in the history of luxury.” (05:22)

Which two majors does the ESSEC Global MBA offer?

After learning about core business concepts, students choose a more dedicated pathway to go into more specialist detail. There are two majors available with the ESSEC Global MBA:

Luxury Brand Management

Luxury Brand Management looks at the skills and processes needed to successfully run a luxury brand or product. It takes students from the socio-cultural beginnings to sustainable luxury, brand stories, and the e-commerce side of industries. Fun fact: Established in 1995, the specialization in Luxury Brand Management is a long-standing powerhouse for any student looking to enter this unique industry.

Strategy & Digital Leadership

This major is concerned with learning how to take a strategic approach in an effort to improve organizational performance. The digital leadership initiative is concerned with reacting to the rapid changes resulting from the digital transformation of businesses. 

What sets the luxury industry apart?

With tech companies taking such a large share of media attention in recent years, it seems like other industries can’t compete. However, through his studies, Donald has learned that the luxury industry has its own unique characteristics that make it just as exciting as other sectors. 

In his words, “I think there’s such a unique way of running [a] business in the luxury industry because customer experience is completely different. The way that customer interactions the way that business models, the way that pricing, the way that money is earned, the way that marketing is all so different.” (08:26)

How has ESSEC prepared Donald to move into the sector?

Between May and the graduation month of October, ESSEC Global MBA students can take one of two paths that give them hands-on experience in their industries. The first option is a consulting project for an ESSEC partner company. These partners are no small-fry businesses. On the Luxury Brand Management side, they include top names, such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Moët Hennessy, among others.

For his part, Donald chose the second route – an MBA-level internship with a luxury brand. “Right now, I am living in Switzerland, Geneva, doing my MBA internship with one of the holy trinity watch brands in the world called Vacheron which is also the oldest watchmaker in existence in the world today,” he tells us. (10:05

Internships like this don’t just give students the in-office skills for their future careers, but students like Donald jump right into an environment full of industry events and potential mentors who can add even more color to the hard and soft skills that come in droves.

With regards to customer experience in the luxury industry, Donald’s internship is especially valuable. His role deals exactly with what sets the sector apart. “My internship here at ESSEC is as a CRM coordinator: customer relationship management coordinator,” he says. “So, ultimately the big role of my job is managing and helping to lead customer acquisition strategies for the global markets of Vacheron.” (11:14)

As part of the Luxury Brand Management specialization, students also gain access to diverse representatives from the luxury industry – from mentor programs to alumni and guest speaker conferences to field trips to London, Milan, and Florence (in person) and New York and Shanghai (online). Over the course of the program, students probably have over 100 interactions with professionals and experts in the luxury industry.

How does Donald feel his MBA has reinvigorated his career?

Courses like Global MBAs are a great way to breathe life into a new career, but it’s not an exact science. With a solid idea of Donald’s journey until now, does he feel like it has been worth it? Although he gives a series of reasons, one stands out in particular: “It reinvigorated me because I knew it was going to get me a step closer to my passion field which was working with luxury watches.” (17:43)

Sticking to the themes of passion and purpose, Donald ends with a piece of advice for others who are looking to make a career change with an MBA. He concludes, “The essays are going to ask you this. Your business school applications are going to ask you the exact same question – I think you need to have a clear and conscientious reason for why you want to do an MBA.” (21:54)

If ESSEC sounds like the kind of business school you’re looking for, you can contact Donald or other graduates directly from the MBAGRADSCHOOLS Ambassador’s Page.

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