On October 20, 2014 at age 82 Oscar de la Renta died at his home in Connecticut surrounded by family, friends and his dogs. Oscar’s name has become synonymous with high fashion for five decades. He started his fashion business in New York specializing in evening wear but expanding his offerings to include daytime suits as well. In addition to his fashion industry success, Oscar leaves a great business lesson for all companies to consider. Fully aware of his own mortality, Oscar believed strongly in building a succession plan.
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic Oscar began studying painting in Spain at age 18 but his love for fashion distracted him from his painting. In his spare time he drew sketches of dresses. The wife of the U.S. Ambassador to Spain saw
his sketches and asked Oscar to make a dress for her daughter. That dress was featured on the cover of Life magazine which led to an apprenticeship with Cristobal Balenciaga. By 1965 Oscar had moved to New York where he launched his own label.
Knowing that he wished that his brand and legacy would continue on long after his death, Oscar wisely began working on a succession plan years ago. In 2004 he turned over the CEO duties to Alex Bolen. For the past ten years Oscar has remained very involved, but allowing the day to day decisions to be made by Bolen. Additionally, Oscar named Peter Copping as the creative director for his famous brand. By passing the torch long before his own death insured that the Oscar de la Renta brand and organization would be well positioned for future success.
Not only was Oscar de la Renta a progressive fashion designer, he was also an insightful leader who recognized the importance of creating a succession plan. Too many creatives allow their egos and sense of self worth stand in the way of creating an organization that can carry on in their absence. Oscar de la Renta was unique in this regard. We can all learn a lesson about just how fashionable succession planning can be from Oscar.