BusinessCompany NewsAnnie Guerard: Powered by Diesel

Annie Guerard: Powered by Diesel

Annie Guerard, UK finance director of alternative fashion label Diesel, smashes all preconceptions of the traditional image of accountants. Not least because of her dress sense, lilting French accent and her gregarious manner. But also because of her frank way of discussing the pros and cons of accountants and the industry.

But don’t be fooled by her appearance. This is a high achieving woman who takes her job seriously and is not overawed by the demands and pressures of sales and marketing teams. ‘We need to go back to basics,’ she says of accountancy’s recent fall from grace.

âThe finance director of a plc is fundamentally a politician. They have to deliver on promises. And that’s what’s happening. You promise to deliver certain profits and inevitably if something goes astray, you have to become creative. There is the bullying factor, too.’

Guerard fully understands the need for controls and continuously praises and emphasises the importance of the back office.

And she clearly has the utmost respect for the work of and need for external auditors. Nevertheless her emphasis always returns to internal controls. ‘I think the key to the future of finance is how to apply counter checks. Should there be an external audit function or a bigger internal one?’ she asks. ‘Or a new way of auditing? The whole of the audit profession has been totally shaken at the moment and we have to rethink the industry.’

Guerard came to London from Paris around 18 years ago as a student on her placement year.

Also a linguist, Guerard had to spend six months in the UK and six months in Germany. Once she got her degree she decided to return to London because she loved the rawness of the city.

‘I didn’t want to stay in France and do what everyone else was doing, so I came to London and stayed. The UK is an incredibly individualistic country, I think. People like to be different here. I like that. In Paris it is much harder,’ she says.

It was her love of individuality that attracted her to the role of UK FD of Diesel four years ago. Prior to Diesel, CIMA-qualified Guerard worked for the Sears group, now part of Arcadia. She worked as financial controller for the high street women’s clothes chain Warehouse.

‘I was not that exposed to the plc world. I was much more operational – you have to roll up your sleeves more. It makes you understand the processes better. But you rely heavily on communication between the key people.’

Clearly the experience set her in good stead for her current role. ‘In smaller companies you rely very much on yourself and your common sense. But you make much more of an impact and you’re here to make a difference. There are a lot of rewards, but risks, too,’ she says of current role.

Of Diesel’s future plans she is slightly guarded. A private company based in Italy, its reins are held tightly by Renzo Rosso, founder and visionary of Diesel.

The company – which has an annual turnover of ê565m, 85% of which is generated outside Italy – began life in 1978. Since then it has seen a massive explosion in popularity.

Its unique advertising campaigns are a reflection of this. For some in the fashion industry, the campaigns ‘Diesel – For Successful Living’ are an art form in itself. They have been recognised by awards from Cannes Film Festival, Eurobest and Epica, to name just a few.

It is no longer just a brand, more a way of life.

With flagship stores in New York, London, San Francisco, Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Amsterdam, it has recently celebrated store openings in Oslo, Milan and Barcelona. More are planned. ‘The brand has shown tremendous momentum. The market has been buoyant over the past two to three years and we’ve ridden the wave on this,’ explains Guerard. ‘One of the reasons for our success is because we are different and I think on the high street, men and women are a little bored of having the same or similar outfits everyone else has.’

Without a doubt, founder Rosso is revered in and outside the company. In 1996 Diesel received the ‘Premio Risultati’ award from the prestigious Bocconi Institute in Milan for the Best Italian Company of the Year. In 1997, Rosso was shortlisted by Ernst & Young as ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ for the company’s progressive moves in the US. And in 2000, Diesel bagged New York’s ‘Made in Italy Award’ in the fashion innovation category.

Although the power base resides outside of the UK, Guerard says the decision-making processes is shared. But she has a tough fight on her hands if she wants to push something through, or if ideas from above come to her in London.

‘Our head office is always keen to buy into our proposals, but I have to prove it through the finance.’

And after all that is her role. ‘I’m told I’m the brakes in the company,’ she says. ‘Sometimes they will pull me away from being the brakes. But it’s always exciting to be challenged and be the challenger.’

Being the FD in such a innovative creative environment can be a difficult business though.

‘It takes time to educate other departments. When a company is young and growing fast it’s all sales and marketing driven.

‘ The finance function is often running after growth. It’s a process of control and communication. People don’t see us as the financial pariahs now,’ she says.

Without divulging too much in fear of competitors stealing its ideas, Guerard insists there are great plans in the offing. Expansion is the buzz word within Diesel.

With a frankness not often employed by her peers, Guerard admits she is concerned about the sudden drive for more legislation in the industry.

‘It’s all about control and power. You can legislate as much as you like, but if you don’t have the control You need to have people with self-discipline. There can’t be policemen behind every person,’ she warns.

In her eyes, that need for flexibility extends to accountancy qualifications themselves. ‘I don’t think the qualification matters,’ she says. ‘It depends on the person.

Everybody can take exams and pass them. But it’s what you do with them afterwards and how you use your business acumen, technical detail and motivation.’

Diesel’s website is at

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