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Ricardo Valente da Conceicao – H&M Group 

Well-suited for HR at H&M Group 

Someday, one of the new hires might succeed Ricardo da Conceicao as the person in charge of human resources for the global design company H&M Group in part of South America. Even if that person doesn’t now so envision him or herself. 

Ricardo Valente da Conceicao | Human Resources Manager | H&M Group 

Ricardo Valente da Conceicao | Human Resources Manager | H&M Group

Ricardo never expected to ascend to this role or arrive at this destination when training to be a store manager in London more than a decade ago. But H&M apparently saw something in this personable and good-humored Portuguese-born man, groomed him for higher responsibilities in England and South Africa, and in late 2020, brought him to Chile where he oversees HR there as well as in Peru and Uruguay and, maybe next year, who knows. 

For now, the expansion focus is Chile, where H&M plans to open four more stores this year, as it did in 2023. Ricardo explains that there’s much demand in this country for the company’s vision of democratizing fashion and making it accessible to many. He’s laying the groundwork for what he anticipates will be a healthy percentage of the incoming workforce to commit to the company for a long stretch. Upward mobility is among the benefits, as it’s been for him and those whose careers he’s helped nurture either personally or through the company`s progressive policies that he says make H&M an employer of choice. 

“We’ve got a young colleague who started out as a part-time sales advisor, and now she’s finishing her law degree and working in our employee relations department,” he told Vision from his office in Santiago in January. “We’ve supported her growth and helped build her up for that role.” 

Just as the company has supported and allowed so many others to grow. Around 90 percent of the executives rose through the ranks, some of whom—Ricardo among them—might have been content in a lesser capacity but whose initiative was rewarded. 

Big on Brazil 

Brazil, the largest South American country and one of Conceicao’s former homes, is on the H&M radar screen, with next year targeted for openings. He’s doing his part, enlisting partners, recruiting employees and working with local players to support the brand’s entry —and getting a sense of the nation’s culture that he says factors into business and marketing. 

Ricardo Valente da Conceicao | Human Resources Manager | H&M Group 

Cultural differences, some subtle and some not abound throughout South America, with Conceicao likening Chile to a Westernized country with a modern economy. Peru and Uruguay, he says, are very different, the economies have different drivers, one more informal but with amazing potential whilst the other very stable with more traditional economic drivers and heading to become a tech hub for South America. Brazil, he explains, has its own characteristics: a continental country with a hugely diverse population and big cultural and economic differences among its cities and states. 

At any rate, Ricardo says the H&M brand has something to offer everyone, he’ll continue to focus on people, which he says is crucial to pushing the company forward. 

“People are central to everything,” Conceicao states. “That idea is part of our DNA and our core values, and being in charge of the lifecycles of colleagues in the company—attraction, recruitment, development, retention, etc.” 

But while he says people are most important, technology and AI are assuming more of a role in company operations, including Conceicao’s. He’s been enhancing his technological skills since beginning his career in Portuguese retail after graduating with a business degree from the Universidade Moderna of Lisbon in 2000. And more so now, given how fast the world is wiring. It’s all part of his responsibility to oversee HR in three and soon-to-be four countries. 

More than a manager 

Time was when Ricardo thought he’d be just managing stores, and he was good at it. Before H&M, he had honed his management skills with retailers on both sides of the Atlantic with stints at furniture chain BoConcept in Britain and Portugal sandwiched around a year developing a restaurant in Brazil. 

Ricardo Valente da Conceicao | Human Resources Manager | H&M Group 

Then H&M came calling, and he settled into his role managing a London store from 2013 to 2015 before being dispatched to Tokyo for six months to assist in the company’s Japanese expansion. He sometimes felt like a stranger in a strange land but became more at ease after taking up martial arts.   

“Japanese culture is very structured,” Conceicao says. “The oldest has the last word. At one meeting, the oldest was a bricklayer around 60. When he spoke, even the CEO listened. It’s also very polite, but while they never say ‘no,’ that doesn’t mean they’ll do what you ask.” 

By autumn 2015, Conceicao was back in Britain, only this time overseeing HR for stores in London; a year later, he took on the challenge of overseeing a northern region as area manager for Manchester. Three years later, he began a two-year stint as a senior area manager in Cape Town, South Africa. Such an amazing country, he recalls. It is one of his favorite places, for the people, the multi-cultures and its potential. 

When December rolled around, Conceicao was bound for Chile with a wife and daughters, ages 5 and 13, in tow. While the youngest didn’t notice much difference, the move was rough for the older girl, she having been pulled from her friends in Cape Town just as she had been yanked from her British pals a few years earlier. 

But, as their father says, there’s much to be gained from experiencing different cultures and everyone’s since adjusted to life in Santiago. The girls also aid Conceicao’s cause, crediting them for keeping him appraised of what’s trending on TikTok and other social media. H&M, after all, is primarily a fashion brand whose celebrity pitchers have included Madonna, Naomi Campbell, and many more. 

Ricardo doesn’t feel out of place, the 40something man being young at heart and keeping fit by boxing and rigorous workouts. Time in the gym, however, might be compromised these next couple of years, what with the Chilean and Brazilian expansion. This past year also was a busy one, Ricardo called upon to help recruit 400 positions for Chile and Peru, 150 for Uruguay and 2,000 temps for the Christmas season. Hiring is only the beginning of the process—afterward, integration and providing them with a corporate culture where they—like Conceicao—can thrive. 

Ricardo Valente da Conceicao | Human Resources Manager | H&M Group 

He says he enjoys a role he never envisioned, but such can result from being with a farsighted company. He appreciates making it more so. 

“I like being in a place where I can impact people’s lives,” Conceicao says. “My favorite corporate value is “We believe in People”. We don’t realize how many colleagues we can support by allowing them to make a career here. In retail, most people work in this industry because they are unsure what to do, but they do not imagine they can make a career in a company like ours. 

View this feature in the Vol. I 2024 Edition here.

 

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