Understanding the emotional connection of luxury branding, through first-hand experience.

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As Sabaa Tovar toured the hallways of the exclusive Montage Laguna Beach resort in California, she became aware of a unique scent emanating through the air. When she peeked inside one of the ultra-luxurious suites and felt the bedding, she swooned.

“The luxury was something I never saw before in my life!” Tovar said. ““It was incredible to see the service, discipline and organization. This kind of experience really shows a business student what it takes to manage a luxury brand and be at the top of your game.”

As one of 18 FIU MBA students to take part in the inaugural Luxury Incubator MBA Project and its 7-day field trip to New York and California, Tovar got a first-hand look into iconic luxury brands and the people and thinking behind them. The program, believed to be the first of its kind, is the brainchild of Deepak Ohri, CEO of lebua Hotels and Resorts and executive in residence at FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, and Anna Pietraszek, director of global operations and assistant teaching professor of marketing and logistics.

Group of MBA studentsVisiting iconic Dior, students learned about tangible and intangible experiences and their impact on customers

“The impact on the students is huge,” Pietraszek said. “One of the students had tears in his eyes and said he saw things he didn’t know existed. They learned it’s not about expense, but about how you are able to see and experience what is around you.”

Luxury, they learned, is about creating emotional connections.

“If you can’t create emotional expression between you and your client, you’re not going to be successful,” said MBA student Kareem Ghraoui. “It’s all about how you can emotionally please and attract customers to continue coming back. The way luxury retailers and exclusive hotel brands go above and beyond to maintain a relationship with the client is incredible!”

They learned from the Eight Inc executive who designed Apple’s first flagship store in 2001. At Dior, amid the backdrop of diamonds and purses in a private room, they discussed how the brand connects with clients and maintains relevancy.

Group of FIU MBA studentsA glimpse of the luxury lifestyle at The Beverly Hills Hotel.

The trip also presented opportunities to learn about financing and running a business. During an hours-long meeting with officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the students heard about ethics requirements and rules for CEOs when companies go public and talked about how to build capital and handle inventory.

An executive from Montage Hotels and Resorts explained how important it is for its employees to understand their guests’ unique desires. “From the specific type of food they expect to the particular activities their kids enjoy, you’re supposed to know all that before they get there!” Ghraoui recounted.

Not all of the learning occurred during official sessions. Ohri, globally recognized as an innovative luxury brand leader, was a continuous source of knowledge, answering questions and doling out advice, as well as inspiring the group with stories about his own humble beginnings. “He shared a lot of business principles and told us how to do the right thing,” Tovar said. “He has a very deep way of thinking and a lot of wisdom, and I was impressed by that because you need that in the business world.”

Deepak Ohri and Anna Pietraszek……holding personalized “thank you” notes prepared by the students

In the end, it was a trip to a coffee shop, with an unexpected encounter with a local, that punctuated the weeklong thesis that luxury isn’t about price, but passion. “I was explaining emotional expression and said most companies go wrong because they go for a unique selling proposition when unique emotional experiences need to be the focus,” Ohri said.

“Suddenly a lady sitting next to us said she came every day to the coffee shop because it made her happy. She had tears in her eyes,” Ohri said. “That wasn’t Dior. It was the impact of my explanation of emotional expression that made even her 3-year-old daughter listen.”