Global Scale

by Jonathan Everitt

When Ian Bickley P’14 joined Coach in 1993, the New York-based handbag company had less than $300 million in annual sales. Its international business represented about seven percent of that number. But the company was destined for bigger things. Global things. And they’d found just the right man for the job.

Today, Bickley, of Westchester, N.Y., is president of Coach’s international group, overseeing all business outside of North America—roughly 40 percent of the company’s sales which top $5 billion annually.

A native of Bermuda, Bickley grew up fascinated by faraway places. “Bermuda is a small place. My family always took us abroad every summer,” he says. “I got used to enjoying travel and seeing foreign countries. I wanted to get out and experience the world.”

Since Bickley joined Coach, he’s held many positions within the company. Four years into his current role, he took over Coach’s Japanese business, moving to Tokyo. It was the first of many international expansions he led for the brand. He has since scaled Coach into 30 countries around the world.

“We have a partnership model for new markets,” Bickley explains. “We enter new markets with a strong local partner. It helps us learn about those markets before we go after them in a big way. We also leverage our human and financial resources when expanding.” Japan is a perfect example. “That was the first market outside of North America,” Bickley says. “We bought the business back from our distributer and went in and built the team. We went from being the number six brand to being the number two brand in five years.”

Coach grew because Bickley and his team had a sense of respect for the region’s cultural differences, and learned how to communicate in ways that their Japanese colleagues respected.

“Japan has a very formal culture and it can be perceived as impolite to say no to something or to refuse something,” Bickley says. “The communication is often indirect, and can therefore be misunderstood or misinterpreted.”

The same is true of every market, Bickley says. “There’s something I like about all the new markets I go into because they all have their nuances and idiosyncrasies.”

Bickley, whose daughter Sophie graduated from William Smith in 2014, is passionate enough about the pursuit of international business that he wants to help a new generation of businesspeople find their way around the world. Since 2010, Bickley and Edward J. Brennan P’06, P’10, president at retailer DFS Group Limited, have been coordinating internships for HWS students at Coach and DFS. In 2012, Bickley and his wife, Kimberly Bickley P’14, established the Bickley Family Endowed Internship for a student going into the international business field.

Recently, inspired by the Scandling Trust (see page 22), the Bickleys made an additional endowment gift of $100,000. With a 100 percent match from The Scandling Trust, each year a student will now receive up to a $15,000 stipend for his or her international experience. “We wanted the fund to provide everything a student would need to have a transformational experience in international business,” he says. “It’s important to give students from North America opportunities to work internationally. The world is becoming a more global place.”

His best tip for young people embarking on an internship in international business: be curious.

“You need to have a lot of curiosity, ask questions, don’t take anything for granted, and be a good listener. Different cultures have different ways of communicating and you have to listen very actively to what is being said and what is not being said.”


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