McDonough School of Business
McDonough School of Business
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Hillery Tsumba (EMBA’22) – Exploring the Viability of Sustainable Trends in Luxury Markets

How does climate change influence the production and consumption of luxury goods? 

This question took Hillery Tsumba (EMBA’22) and her teammates all the way to Italy to explore consumer behavior toward sustainable consumption trends and the viability of a more long-term sustainable luxury segment in the marketplace. 

Hillery Tsumba (EMBA’22)

Her team, which included fellow EMBA class of 2022 classmates Ekin Altintas, Ajay Divekar, Werner Dreesen, James Edwards, Frank Halstead, Brent Smith, and Raymond Welsh, created a comparative analysis of how various luxury industries – fashion, wine, and automobiles – are adapting to environmentally conscious trends in purchase behavior. They then returned home to deliver their final project presentations at the EMBA Global Capstone Symposium on April 30. 

Tsumba shared her biggest takeaways from the Executive MBA program’s global capstone project, her favorite moments in Italy, and the value of diverse perspectives on her global team. 

Why did you want to work on a consulting project about Luxury Goods Climate Sustainability?

Members of our capstone group were interested in the topic of luxury goods and climate sustainability for different reasons. For me, it was about understanding if and how the preferences of wealthy consumers influence businesses to be more environmentally contentious, or vice versa. Having built my career in the nonprofit sector, I’ve long been interested in how business practices can either contribute to or curb social and environmental ills. Generally, I’ve focused more on social justice than on environmental issues, but I became interested in luxury goods and climate sustainability during my first year in the program when I heard Professor Agrawal speak about the effects of climate change on cocoa production and implications of cocoa scarcity for the chocolate industry. 

How did traveling to Italy contribute to the project deliverable?

Our project was a comparative analysis of how different industries are experiencing and responding to the pressures of climate change. Italy is the global epicenter of luxury production, famous for artisanal districts that produce some of the world’s most coveted goods ranging from automobiles to olive oil. It was an ideal location for our comparative industry analysis. But the trip wasn’t all about work. The food, scenery, and cultural attractions were a plus!

“Even for artisanal products with very localized production, businesses must strike the balance between local pressures and international influences that affect their suppliers and distribution markets.”

What have been your biggest takeaways from working with your client?

Visiting production sites across industries highlighted the interplay between global and local. Even for artisanal products with very localized production, businesses must strike the balance between local pressures and international influences that affect their suppliers and distribution markets. For example, we learned that district-level regulatory complexities prevent sustainable vineyards in Italy from pursuing certifications that would increase their appeal to consumers in international markets. 

What was your favorite moment from your trip to Italy?

With so many memories and experiences from the trip it is difficult to pick just one favorite. If I must choose, I’d say it was buying gelato from the happiest man alive. He was just closing when our group passed his shop and was singing arias while packing up and was quite happy to reopen so we could buy a few scoops. A close runner up would be when I ordered a café latte at 10 p.m. and the restaurant host thought this so funny that the latte arrived in a beer mug. It was all in good humor and a good lesson in cultural differences. 

“Our diverse perspectives contributed to the project in different ways, but more importantly, working together has really enriched our lives personally and professionally.”  

How did the trip impact your understanding of global perspectives in business?

Having missed other travel opportunities due to the pandemic, international travel for the capstone was a high priority. In the end, I learned more about global perspectives in business from my fellow team members than from the in-country site visits. In addition to having diverse professional backgrounds, our project team included people from five different countries of origin. We experienced some culture clashes along the way, and we learned to work through them. We also supported one another through some major life events. I admire each member of the team. Our diverse perspectives contributed to the project in different ways, but more importantly, working together has really enriched our lives personally and professionally.