Name: Lucas Seifert
Title: Country Manager for Japan, CEO H&M Japan (since January 2017)
DoB: July 28, 1974
Years in Japan: 2
In the H&M Showroom perched above the streets of Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, the calm demeanor of Lucas Seifert stands in stark contrast to the boisterous outside.
It quickly becomes apparent that the 44-year-old at the helm of the apparel giant’s Japan and South Korea operations is nothing if not international. Moreover, he is intent on building the Sweden-based brand into an established presence in Japanese homes.
Both his education and career have taken Seifert around the world. Now, almost in his second year in Japan, he is determined to leverage his international experience to make the most of his time while giving H&M products greater traction among the discerning customers.
When he was asked in 2016 to relocate from Sweden to head Japan operations, the journey marked a return to the region. He took his first step into Asia as an 11-year-old, when his father’s work took the family to Hong Kong.
“My father was in advertising and that led us to Hong Kong. I’ve since lived in lots of different places,” he said.
Indeed, it is as if he took a page out of his father’s playbook. Since his teens, Seifert hasn’t remained long in any location. From Hong Kong, he was off to boarding school in the U.S.
Used to the American system, but yearning to return to Europe, Seifert found a middle ground in France by matriculating to the American University of Paris, where he majored in international business administration while minoring in economics and French studies.
During his undergraduate studies, he was already firmly focused on his future. Reaching out to H&M, he landed an internship at the Stockholm flagship store. Soon after, he joined the global fashion brand and found a home.
“H&M has been the company for me. The kind of development we’ve had in the 20-plus years I’ve been here has been an adventure in itself. I’ve always had opportunities to move to different countries, different positions and to work with different teams and in different cultures. I’ve always been challenged,” he said.
Sometimes people ask him how he could spend his entire career with one company.
“It’s a fair question to ask how you can be with a business for so long, but the answer is so simple for me — you love the company you’re in, getting all that experience and development and growing along the way while being a part of something that’s really a family. It’s never been a tough choice,” he said.
Seifert’s work took him abroad. In a mildly ironic twist, that is where he encountered his Swedish soulmate and wife, Anna. They met soon after he had relocated to Paris to head merchandising in France and, as he puts it, “as people do there, we fell in love.” Life together in various places has given Seifert and his wife a few tenets to live by.
“As a Scandinavian family, it’s a ‘we’ and teamwork. There are a few things that we both feel strongly about. I guess these are our team mottos,” he said. Seifert also encourages his three children to tackle life with these approaches in mind.
“First, try to be a good person and treat others as you would like to be treated. Second, always challenge yourself. It makes you grow as a person and ensures you’re in motion,” he said. “That ties into the final motto of collecting experiences rather than things. People and places are always more enriching than things.”
These themes explain Seifert’s unbridled curiosity and zeal for adventure.
“I think you should really make the most of living in a country like Japan. See as much of the country as possible. Be curious. Get outside of Tokyo. Meet people. Climb Mount Fuji. Eat food you can’t eat at home. I’d say don’t just do what is easiest. Dare to move out of your comfort zone, because that is how you grow,” he said.
Although he has spent the majority of his life away from his birthplace, Seifert and his family make a point of visiting Sweden each year, he said, recounting a related anecdote.
“As I was leaving for my summer vacation, I’d just hung up the phone with a Swedish friend who couldn’t believe I was returning to Sweden for a mere three weeks. A few minutes later, I ran into a Japanese friend living in the same building who was astounded that I was taking off for a full three weeks. These extreme differences in perception say something about the business culture where you are,” he said.
Seifert is currently facing the biggest challenge of his career — part of which involves bridging market differences to make H&M a local go-to brand in Japan.
Under his watch, the company added 25 new stores in Japan and its domestic network has grown to 86 establishments.
“The challenge here is finding the balance between global and local to really be accepted locally. You really have to bring your best game to succeed in Japan,” said Seifert. “You need to have products that people love — make great quality at a good price and present them in an appealing way.”
The globetrotting fashion purveyor also continues to dream big.
“My ambition is to build a company that will last for generations in Japan and be the first international apparel brand that is truly accepted in every Japanese home. If we achieve that, then I’ll sleep well at night. Then again, I might sleep well anyway,” he said with a smile.
CEO’s journey began with summer stint
For more than two decades as a professional, Lucas Seifert has spent his entire career working for fashion retail giant H&M. He is in charge of the world’s third-largest market for the second-biggest fashion retailer on a global scale. Seifert had his sights set on the company early on. After working at the flagship store in Stockholm during the summer while attending university, he became fond of the company and eventually joined it. His international education segued into an international career. The challenges that have accompanied the company’s rapid growth have kept Seifert fully engaged and taken him from Sweden to Belgium and Norway to France before his current position of CEO at H&M Japan, responsible for the Japanese and South Korean markets. Seifert enjoys sports, travel and spending time with his wife and three children.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.