Before taking to the international stage, most managers will have been hardened by years of corporate climbing, a boardroom scuffle or two, and have an MBA tucked under their belt. Not so Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, fourth generation of a Swiss-German watch and jewellery dynasty, and co-president of Chopard (which she co-manages alongside her brother, Karl-Friedrich).
“I was still at school when I was sent to Manila to represent the family,” she says, “and our regional chief was there to greet me with a red carpet and flowers. He looked at this girl in a T-shirt and pigtails and asked ‘where’s the vice-president?’ I’ll never forget his face.” Only 18, Gruosi-Scheufele was thrown in at the deep-end, wooing the likes of Imelda Marcos (“her jewellery collection put her shoes to shame”) and representing the Scheufele’s business interests internationally.
In a market that is dominated by luxury giants, with Hublot joining LVMH in 2008, and the Gucci Group buying shares in Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard later that year, Chopard remains one of the few family watch and jewellery companies still standing.
It’s not the cosy family company it once was, however, with 1,700 employees in 124 markets producing around 75,000 luxury watches a year (and a similar out- put in jewellery). How can you translate family values to a company on this scale? “Getting out into the market is hugely important to me,” says Gruosi-Scheufele, who speaks five languages and obviously thrives on face-to-face contact. “I travel the most out of our family, and am always telling my parents that decisions cannot be made around a green leather desk.” The family also brings regional management back to Geneva every year to be reminded of their roots.
For Gruosi-Scheufele, there’s no distinction between family and business – her parents co-ran the company since buying it in 1963; she and her brother have been actively involved since the 1980s; and her husband (Fawaz Gruosi) is the founder of de Grisogono. “We make decisions as a family,” explains Gruosi-Scheufele, whose septuagenarian parents are still actively involved. “Of course there are disagreements, as there are in any family, or business for that matter. Dealing with four individuals can be very challenging for our management team. But on the whole, I’d say it’s hugely positive. We each bring something to the table and aren’t afraid to disagree – I can’t stand ‘yes’ men.”
The different personalities of brother and sister so neatly reflect Chopard’s two core businesses (watches and jewellery, which Karl-Friedrich and Caroline manage respectively) that the Scheufeles could be a biological marketing trick.
Caroline is a vivacious, glamorous woman, actively involved in the company’s longstanding sponsorship of the Cannes Film Festival and other major cultural events. The more publicity-shy Karl-Friederich is apparently as focused and methodological as…well, a Swiss watch. “He has the patience to see things through,” says Caroline of her brother, who has spearheaded the revival of Chopard’s classic LUC timepiece over the past 15 years, “whereas I like instant results. We complement each other very well – it says a lot that we still share an office.”
When in Geneva, Gruosi-Scheufele makes a point of touring the various departments of the business on a daily basis. “A lot of things can be done via email, but you’ll be amazed what problems are only raised when you are talking face-to-face. This human touch cannot be replaced. I’m a great believer in team work – you cannot run a company on your own, and no one is a perfect manager overnight. Always listening, always learning – that’s how I hope I manage.”
Dispel any thoughts you may have of a new-aged management philosophy, however; Gruosi-Scheufele is by all accounts an exacting and demanding boss, keeping close tabs on her employees. “Everyone pulls their weight here. My parents like to say that a thick carpet can hide a lot of things. I prefer bare floorboards.” Carefully controlling expansion, Chopard has grown at a steady 5 to 10 per cent for the past 45 years, and supply has always been well under demand.
For Gruosi-Scheufele, the line between work and family seems completely blurred. “We try to keep some balance, but it’s a losing battle really. My brother makes his children pay a Franc into a jar every time they talk about the business too much.” It’s telling that while other families might fine their teenage children for swearing, the Scheufele’s operate a “Chopard-jar”. Even when dropping by at her parents’ house for a coffee on a Sunday morning while out walking the dogs, it’s only a matter of time before the “C” word is raised.
Flexible in her approach, Gruosi-Scheufele sees a family dynamic as the key to Chopard’s success and independence. “Sometimes I’ll get a call from my parents asking why I haven’t called home in two days, and I explain that I’m in China and busy running a company. I think Chopard has to be emotional though; we’re not selling toothpaste. People buy jewellery because it matters.”
01: What time do you like to be at your desk?
I’m more of a night person; I stay very late to work sometimes. My mornings are usually taken up doing 100 other tasks.
**02: Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership — an MBA school or on the job? **
Theories and doctorates do not automatically make you a good manager, you also need creativity and to be hands on.
**03: Describe your management style. **
Spontaneous. I’m very quick and I expect others to know what I’m thinking as I am thinking it, which can be a disadvantage. It means I’m creative at finding solutions, though.
**04: Are tough decisions best taken by one person? **
We run a democracy not a dictatorship, and all big decisions must be taken by the family. It works for us.
**05: Do you want to be liked or respected? **
For me they’re the same thing. I can’t like someone if I don’t respect them, and vice versa.
**06: What does your support team look like? **
I have a fantastic assistant who is my left and right hand, and often my head too. I also work closely with the high jewellery department – they’re all artists and have to be treated as such.
**07: What technology do you carry on a trip? **
Unfortunately my iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, and my laptop… Sometimes I wish they hadn’t been invented; the world worked just fine before.
**08: Do you read management books? **
On and off – they can be interesting, but not in an abstract way, only where you are able to link the ideas to real solutions.
**09: Run in the morning? Wine with lunch? Socialise with your team after work? **
Run in the evening, as I’d rather have an extra sleep in the morning. Having a glass of wine with the team is important. We’re off to an evening Easter apéro after this – Dad says we need a company get-together.
**10: What would your key management advice be? **
It will seem odd me saying this, but choose a career you’re passionate about, rather than following duty. My parents were lucky that their children loved the industry, but you will never find success in an area you don’t care about.