There’s no such thing as a perfect leader: Zalora’s Simone Cortini


Simone Cortini has come a long way from his hometown of Milan, Italy. As chief platform officer at Zalora, Asia’s leading online fashion retailer, he is now based in Singapore, and responsible for developing the company’s suite of e-commerce products, including fulfilment solutions, data services, advertising platform and production services. We recently sat down with Cortini to learn what he loves about e-commerce, his perspective on leadership and how he manages to get things done.


Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way?

Simone Cortini: I was born and raised in Milan, Italy, where I spent my formative years and completed my studies. This was where I started my career as well – with my very first job seeing me join IBM as a strategy consultant. During my time at IBM, I worked on a wide range of retail and FMCG consulting projects in Italy and Europe, focusing mostly on supply chain and operations. 

In 2016, I started working for Zalora as a project manager in the operations department. During that time, the company was looking at standardising its business processes across the region and enhancing the efficiency of its e-commerce infrastructure, and I supported a variety of projects over that year, including supply chain and logistics management, warehouse operations and digital content production.

Later in 2017, I had the chance to collaborate more closely with other departments, such as the marketing and commercial teams. Together, we launched Zalora’s loyalty program, Zalora Now (Znow), which was the initiative that helped me advance in my professional career. I was able to independently pitch the concept of the loyalty program to the management team overseeing its design and execution in collaboration with our marketing and commercial divisions. 

After the successful implementation of Znow in the majority of our markets, I was given the opportunity to lead the marketplace business as the regional head of marketplace. In terms of the overall sales share, our model was relatively small (10-15 per cent sales contribution) at the time as Zalora was still mostly operating under the traditional online retail business model. It was therefore my responsibility to build the regional marketplace team in Malaysia from the ground up, and there was thus a strong emphasis on hiring the right talent and building the right tech and commercial processes. 

The Zalora Marketplace business has grown rapidly over the past five years, rising from a very small contribution (less than 15 per cent) of Zalora’s net merchandise volume in 2017 to a projected 40 per cent contribution in 2022. Throughout the years, a handful of crucial initiatives and catalysts have contributed to the team’s tremendous growth performance.. 

Having successfully established the marketplace department at Zalora, I shifted my attention to our wider B2B services as an opportunity to further expand the overall business. Over the years, we have been able to build a highly successful infrastructure for online fashion e-commerce, and we have done so by developing tools and technologies that other fashion brands can use as a service. On this front, I joined the management team in August this year as Zalora’s chief platform officer, where I am responsible for the company’s platform strategy across the region, and for the further development of our suite of e-commerce products, including our fulfilment solutions, data services, advertising platform and production services.

IR: What do you love about your job?

SC: I love the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the industry – it keeps me on my toes and ensures that no two days are the same. 

I love the opportunity to work with a diverse range of people from all over the world. Here at Zalora, our workforce comprises over 30 nationalities with an almost-even gender ratio – it is a real melting pot of culture and creativity. 

I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from helping our customers in finding the ideal fashion and lifestyle products for their needs, and from helping our partner brands successfully establish their e-commerce presence in Southeast Asia.

IR: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your line of work?

SC: There are a few things that I would recommend for anyone interested in working in the fashion e-commerce space: 

Stay up-to-date on the latest trends in both fashion and technology. This industry is constantly evolving, and so it is important to be able to adapt and stay ahead of the curve. 

Have a strong understanding of both online and offline retail. E-commerce is a hybrid of the two, and so it is important to understand how both sides work in order to be successful. This is especially true in the Southeast Asian market, where e-commerce penetration is still growing.

Be data-driven. It is important to be able to understand your customer and what they want. This can be done through data analytics, and so it is important to be able to understand and use data to your advantage. 

Be creative. Whether it is coming up with new technology, processes, designs, or marketing campaigns, thinking outside the box is what will set you apart from the competition. 

Be passionate. This is a competitive industry, and so it is important to be passionate about what you do in order to be successful.

IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up over the course of your career?

SC: I believe that the concept of the perfect leader does not exist. What I have learned is to be adaptable and to modify your style as needed, so that it remains appropriate and relevant for the situation at hand and the people that you are leading. The following are some additional lessons that are worth remembering as well: 

Encourage and motivate your team members; Delegate tasks and responsibilities appropriately; Be decisive and confident in your decisions, but remain open to change your mindBe accessible and approachable to your team members. Always communicate your vision and goals for your team or organisation. Be open to feedback and willing to change course if necessary.Always communicate your vision and goals for your team or organisation.

IR: Do you have any “work hacks” for getting things done? 

SC: I make sure to set aside some time each day for uninterrupted deep work by blocking it out in my calendar. This means turning off all potential sources of distractions and focusing solely on the task at hand. 

I use a to-do list to help me stay organised and on track, and I find it helpful to break down my tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. 

I try to take breaks regularly throughout the day, even if it is just a quick walk or taking a few minutes to clear my head. I find that this helps me to stay focused and avoid burnout in the long run.


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