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Taking the Leap into a New Environment

In luxury goods (and some challenging markets) knowledge and determination pay off for Guy Bodart

Guy Bodart
CEO, Duty Free Dynamics

Vanderbilt MBA 1988

Before he came to Vanderbilt in 1986, Guy Bodart had, among other jobs, waited tables in New York, driven a cab and sold bathroom towels at Bloomingdales. In Geneva, Switzerland, he was a financial assistant at Merrill Lynch and a commodity trader in Istanbul. He says he would never trade those experiences for anything; they teach you “to be relentless and how to bounce back.”

His experience at Vanderbilt, where he concentrated in marketing, reinforced those qualities — along with the competency and competence to embark on new experiences. They have served him well in his subsequent international business career.

Guy, who grew up in Belgium and Switzerland and speaks five languages (English, Spanish, German, French and Portuguese), put his abilities and knowledge to work at Chanel in Panama as vice president of sales for Central and South America. Working as a banker in Miami (and commuting to be with his family in Panama on weekends) he won the position even though he had no prior packaged goods experience, let alone experience in luxury fragrances and cosmetics. Guy was looking to be closer to home, and Chanel, he says, “was looking for a multicultural individual with a strong finance background.” It was a “good fit,” he says, but also “sort of a leap of faith for both the company and me.”

The leap paid off. A decade after joining Chanel, Guy was promoted to managing director of the company’s operations in Mexico. In 2013, he became CEO of Chanel in Brazil.

In both places, he has applied both his finance and marketing skills from Vanderbilt and the lessons in persistence that have stayed with him from the beginning of his career. “When I arrived in Mexico,” Guy recalls, “most high-level executives wanted to leave, the economic and political outlook was uncertain, and the company was under tremendous financial pressure. In a matter of four years, my team and I managed to turn it around and weather the storm of the 2008 financial crisis.”

To some, the work in Brazil might have seemed equally daunting. Not only is it one of the most challenging emerging markets in the world, Guy says, but also one of the most protectionist ones. Guy pressed forward there, too. “It was rough but incredibly refreshing and educational,” he says. “It’s clear proof one should always be ready and willing to learn, even if you think you know it all” (another lesson reinforced at Vanderbilt).

In early 2016, Guy made another leap with a new company. Back in Panama again, he is CEO and Managing Director of Duty Free Dynamics, which distributes high-end consumer goods (including watches, fragrances, cosmetics and electronics) to the Travel Retail channel in the Americas.

"One should always be reading and willing to learn, even if you think you know it all."