As a managing director leading the coverage of retail and luxury goods for Cowen, Oliver Chen forecasts industry trends, anticipates consumer behavior and recommends stocks — skills he’s been honing since he was a child. Oliver’s broad coverage and circumspect view make him the thought partner of retail and brand leaders around the world. The son of an eminent Taiwanese political scientist and activist, Chen learned from his parents the importance of independent spirit and tenacity. At age seven, he began working in his family’s gift store in Natchitoches, Louisiana, helping them design, package and sell decorative objects.
“I think the store experience and growing up in the South gave me a sense of hospitality and an appreciation for relationships with customers,” Chen says. His love of retail was fostered during this time, when he was obsessed with going to the town’s Walmart and recognized shopping as entertainment. He says retail is also about fantasy, aspiration and dreams. As a young minority in Louisiana and a student on financial aid in New England, Chen used his love of fashion as a way to connect with others. “The most successful brands engage with consumers and are able to evoke emotion and desire,” he says. “How can a brand add to your life and inspire you to become your best self?”
In Chen’s view, today’s successful retailers strike a creative balance between new and old, disruption and collaboration, community and personalization. “Human interaction is still important, but mobile phones have become the new mall and social media is the new town square.