Built to Last: Damian Zaplata
The world of fashion retail is split between online outlets and bricks-and-mortar stores. Where once it seemed the latter would make way entirely for the former, Modivo SA CEO Damian Zaplata believes success depends on a blend of both, and he’s building the Polish fashion and beauty seller to be futureproof.
Damian Zaplata considers himself a builder. A veteran of McKinsey & Company, the multi-billion dollar marketplace Allegro, and of First Data – owner of cashless payment solution PolCard, Damian has worked extensively at home in Poland as well as in Germany, Croatia, Switzerland and the Middle East, all while building both his portfolio and his skillset.
"I like to build things and I like to do it in a dynamic way," he says. "Change is a situation in which I thrive, I’m not afraid of it."
A people person, Damian makes sure that every new opportunity he takes on provides the kind of personal motivation and engagement that drives him. "It’s important to take pleasure in whatever you do, so that’s the kind of situation I look for."
He was approached by CCC, one of the largest European companies in the footwear sector and the parent company to MODIVO. When Dariusz Miłek, the Chairman of CCC, offered Damian the role of CEO of MODIVO, he saw a company that ticked many of these boxes, but also had room to build. "It’s a great company, and I was really excited for a few reasons when I was offered the position," he says.
Just the fact this was a company operated out of Poland that had managed to go international and become a big success was very exciting.
First, the dynamic MODIVO was a company on the move, achieving year-on-year triple-digit growth as it expanded across Europe. "Just the fact this was a company operated out of Poland that had managed to go international and become a big success was very exciting, and I was intrigued by that," Damian says. "I wanted to know what had helped the company do it, and how it had achieved such great success."
Additionally, the builder in Damian recognised that as developed as MODIVO was, there was still room for reaching for more. "There was a chance to set something of a new direction for the company, to help structure it, give it a stronger sense of social responsibility and perhaps be a bit more thoughtful and spontaneous when making decisions," he says. "That’s where I thought I could add value."
Startup to scale
In the months Damian has been MODIVO’s CEO, adding value is precisely what he has done. "We’ve grown so much, and our team has been great at coming up with new ideas," he says. "They just go for it, and then they learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s an approach that makes the team and the company stronger. At the same time, we’re working hard not to lose our startup legacy while we scale effectively and powerfully at a European level."
This has been possible thanks to the diversified team Damian has built at MODIVO during his time in the role. "It’s more international, more holistic, and creating that team was the main job I had to do," he says. "When I joined, some of the functions critical in our business had been awaiting bigger investments, so to speak."
Technology was one area where Damian felt MODIVO had come up short. "We are a tech company but our technology department was overloaded with too many ideas, with little to no time to think about the future," he says. "So we’ve really focused on that; it was my priority."
In response, Damian set up a product team at MODIVO that was able to handle multiple projects in parallel. "In a consumer-driven business, that’s critical," he says.
He was also able to apply many of the lessons he’d learned during his time with Allegro. "That was a big company with a valuation close to €10 billion, and it was great to observe how it grew and behold the power of the marketplace. That’s what we’re doing at MODIVO right now."
Leading with style
Damian has also been hard at work when it comes to the quality of leadership itself. Authenticity is a highly prized virtue across all industries today, and Damian says it’s at the heart of his approach. "It’s exactly the type of leadership people need right now, especially the younger generations," he says.
"They’re not looking for role models; instead, they need a bit of a mentor, a bit of a coach – but not someone who’s an omnipotent person. To do that, you need to be yourself and you need to accept your weaknesses."
Which is where, once again, Damian’s inner builder shines. "Hierarchical leadership is something I believe in, but it’s very difficult to build," he says. "It’s a balance of business etiquette, which is traditionally conservative, and breaking these conventions to do things differently. There’s a lot of effort required and some deliberate thinking about how you want to act, taking a step back and reassessing your priorities."
They need a bit of a mentor, a bit of a coach – but not someone who’s an omnipotent person. To do that, you need to be yourself and you need to accept your weaknesses.
For Damian and the MODIVO team, the result is a determination to make MODIVO much more of an international organisation. "We want to continue to be a leader in online footwear retail, so we’re building local teams to better understand customers in the free markets, from Italy to Czechia, from the Slovak Republic to Romania," he says. "We’re experiencing that and it’s a great journey."
From a small online shoe seller in Poland to a European ecommerce fashion force, MODIVO exemplifies the kind of ‘built from scratch’ company that appeals to Damian’s sensibilities. "We hit US$1 billion [€980 million] in revenue last year," he says.
"Going forward, what’s important is using innovation to enhance the MODIVO experience. Taking advantage of the wide knowledge and experience offered by CCC Group that we are a part of, we’ve started investing in offline shops, because consumers still love to try before they buy. Some online fashion companies just can’t deliver that experience, but with 40 offline outlets in big European cities, and the whole synergy with the CCC group, it’s been a great success for MODIVO."
And it’s there, in a future that’s a combination of the physical and the digital, that the builder can create something that will stand the test of time. With a sturdy mix of understanding, diversity, know-how and quality product, Damian and the MODIVO team have built the foundation for the next generation.
"The merger of the digital and the offline world is very novel, and our clients love it," he says. "So when people ask what the future looks like, I tell them that’s it, especially in the fashion industry. We see ourselves as experts in merging these two worlds, and that’s the way we think about the future."
MODIVO & CCC
The European leader in ecommerce, MODIVO operates on two multi-brand platforms – eobuwie.pl and MODIVO – which offer footwear, apparel and accessories from hundreds of top brands.
Operating in 20 countries online, eobuwie.pl uses local domains throughout Europe while MODIVO has also successively developed a network of modern physical stores, present in the biggest Polish agglomerations and Czech’s capital city. Thanks to its omnichannel formula, investment in technology and the innovative esize.me project, the company is heading towards a true integration of online and offline sales. Since 2016, MODIVO has been a part of the CCC Group.
CCC is one of the largest European companies in the footwear sector. The Group has approximately 90 ecommerce platforms and nearly 1,000 stores in 28 countries under the CCC, eobuwie.pl, MODIVO and DeeZee brands. Since May 2021, the company has also developed sales in the off-price segment through the HalfPrice chain of stores. CCC has been listed on the Polish Stock Exchange since 2004.