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One man’s mission to reclaim the overused term ‘luxury’

One man’s mission to reclaim the overused term ‘luxury’

‘Mac’ McClelland, CEO Luxury Marketing Council (ME), explains the benefits of a luxury club that is strictly invite-only.

August 24, 2008 8:39 by

Siobhan Adams

T. B. McClelland, Jr or Mac, as he is more commonly known, is a real nice guy. Tall, clean cut, softly spoken. Perhaps it’s in his DNA. Born in Houma, Louisiana, his imposing yet genteel demeanor exudes Old South sensibilities and courtesies. There’s no doubt about it, Mac possesses all the finesse one would associate with the brands he services as president and CEO of the Luxury Marketing Council (Middle East).

But there’s a tough side to Mac the Nice too, because this particular gentleman was also an officer in the US Marine Corps. His career in the military lasted 20 years, and 14 of which were spent in the Middle East and lived and worked in every Arab country at least once throughout his military career. His final postings saw him as US Naval Attaché and Navel Attaché for Air to the Sultanate of Oman and Political Advisor to the Commander, US Fifth Fleet in Manama.

“We lived in the late sixties and early seventies, my Dad was with an oil services company so it seemed natural that I would come back to the Middle East after I finished school,” he tells me.

Less natural perhaps or at least highly unusual for many ex pat kids is that Mac understood Arabic. It was, in fact, his aptitude for languages that predetermined much of his military career. At the age of 19 years he enrolled as a Platoon Commander but was soon selected for the Marine’s Foreign Area Officer Program.

“The intention is to teach you a language and then put you into any area where the language is spoken,” he recalls. “They didn’t know that I had a grounding in Arabic and I had wanted to learn Mandarin as my Mother was born and brought up in China and is fluent in it.”

But the Marines had that final say and Arabic it was. Following a year spent studying the language in California at Marine’s Foreign Service Institute he was shipped off to its branch in Tunisia to complete the course. “From then on anytime something came up in the Middle East, they would say ‘you’re going,’ or ‘who wants to go’ and I would say I do.”

But retirement rolled around some 20 years later and he exchanged the rigors of military service for those of the corporate world. He headed straight for Dubai as group director J. Ray McDermott SA, a marine construction company.

From there he joined Enron ME with responsibility for developing energy, communications projects and joint ventures.

He quit in 2001 because “they started doing funny things that none of us understood.”

From there on in he decided to go it alone and founded his own business consulting firm Centre House Ltd which specialises in business development and business advisory services.

And it is via that somewhat circuitous route that he eventually fell into the lap of luxury. So to speak.

An introduction to the founder and president of The Luxury Marketing Council, NY-based Greg Furman, soon led to Mac acquiring the licenses to operate the Council across MENA, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.

It’s curious, I say, that given the traditional (or at least post-oil) propensity for affluence in the region that a professional association serving the interests of the luxury goods sector did not exit long before now.

“A couple of councils started up and crashed and burned, mainly in the Free Zones,” he says. “I’m not bad mouthing anybody, so don’t misunderstand me but for a variety of reasons they just did not work out.”

Sometime later he met with Najar Hussain, head of Dubai-based strategic communications agency, They “immediately clicked” and she became his local partner.

“I am the American face of the Luxury Marketing Association which is American,” she is the local face for the Dubai Chapter for LMA Middle East,” he explains. Hussain is also very much the marketer of the duo. “I am not a marketer, it’s not my thing. She brings those skills that I didn’t have.”

The name however, I would suggest, is somewhat of a misnomer, because the Council doesn’t undertake any actual marketing activities on its member’s behalf.

McClelland explains: “It is a by invitation only to join professional association of brand managers and brand marketing managers of brands that market products and services to HNWIs. It’s specialty marketing for the luxury sector. We help those brands that are members have the opportunity to get together with people who are like minded, who have the same jobs basically within the luxury sector but not necessarily competitors. How do those brands learn how to work together better in order to get more money from the people with more money. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Council acts as a catalyst or forum for the airing of critical issues, trends, sharing of best practices and innovation and it is the individual members who host these events and determine the guest list.

But why invite only I ask. Why can’t any luxury brand apply?

“Every property developer here says they are luxury a brand. Every hotel says they’re luxury even though they could be two- star and they say they’re luxury. It’s to cull out the true luxury from the wannabes.”

But the decision to invite resides solely with McClelland although he stresses that member brands need never surrender proprietary information.

“We want to see what you have done in a marketing role that benefits the membership – nothing proprietary, no competitive intelligence,” he adds “American Express which hosted the inaugural event in June for example did this research into which geographical are their members spent more than others – that knowledge has value for the membership.”

Once on the A list however – and remember it’s the brands, not people who are members – the advantages of membership include access to the worldwide database, access to research, benchmarking reports among others. But perhaps the most valuable asset is the exclusive entrée to opportunities that only networking among the select few can offer.

As McClelland says: “You can throw a bunch of seeds out or you can plant them carefully and help them bloom. We help them bloom, forcefully.”

Stressing that member brands need not at any stage surrender proprietary information.

Still in its embryonic stages the medium term plan is to aim for one or two events a month in Dubai – in NYC they have 40. And as the Council ramps ups, he expects to decrease his other consultancy interests especially if his expansion plans take root.

“This is going to be a full time job.” As the sole licensee for the region he intends to open chapters in Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Doha, Istanbul and Riyadh soon.

“I expect to have 10 chapters, in my region, 200 brands as chapters so I expect to have 2000 members by 2010.”

But you’ll just have to wait to be asked.

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1 Comment

  1. Oman on August 24, 2008 10:17 am

    Luxury is one of those words that is used interchangeably today with a whole raft of others – exclusive, expensive, bling and so on; it will be good to have it nailed back to its core meaning


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