Monday, January 12, 2015

A Few Minutes with Aletta Stas-Bax

Aletta Stas-Bax, along with her husband Peter have built something truly unique in a remarkably short span of time.  A brand that has come to rival and surpass many of its longer established, and dare I say it,  "greyer" old-school SWISS colleagues.

And now, a few minutes with Aletta Stas-Bax...

Courtesy of Frederique Constant
Tempus Fugit - What was your first watch?  Was it a gift?  Is there a story behind it?

Aletta Stas-Bax - My first watch was a Timex mechanical hand-winding model which I received in 1970 from my father.  He had just came back from a business trip to the US.

TF - When you were a young girl, what did you "want to be when you grew up?"

ASB - I grew up in a traditional family where my father worked and my mother took care of my brother and me.  I knew from a young age that I wanted to have the options to do the same things as my brother.  I did not have a clear picture in mind what I wanted exactly, but I knew that I wanted to be in the business world.

TF - Where did you go to school? What did you study?

ASB - For most of my elementary and secondary school I went to Rijnlands Lyceum in Wassenaar, the Netherlands.  After secondary school I studied Law in Rijks Universiteit Leiden.

TF - What got you involved in the watch business in the first place?

ASB - A Passion for watches and knowing that I did not want to spend the rest of my life for a big multinational. Peter my husband had the same feeling so we started together our own watch company.

TF - Having read the book "Live Your Passion" it seems quite clear that the creation, survival and now continued success was truly the result of a team effort between you and Peter Stas (and of course your team). Can you think back on a moment back in the early days where you asked yourself "why did I get into this?"

ASB - I may have thought this when a supplier did not deliver a component on time that we needed for a major customer but this vanished very fast!  It has always been an exciting adventure and especially in the early days, when we did not know what would happen each day.

TF - When was the moment when you felt - "okay, we're going to make it?"

ASB - This is something which I do not think for maybe a few seconds ;-) 
We set goals each time and when we were nearly reaching them we already have set new goals, so therefor we do not have the feeling "we're going to make it".

TF - Frédérique Constant is perhaps one of the great success stories of the watch industry in recent times.  You managed to do something that has taken some of the older, mighty brands many more years, and millions more dollars.  What is it that you knew and did that helped you succeed where so many others failed?  

ASB - It is difficult to describe this in a few words. There are many things came together.  First of all, we noticed that there was a gap in the watch market: Beautiful classical swiss watches for an accessible price point.  We have put a lot of effort in the finishing of the watch and have paid a lot of attention to the details.  We have developed the company step by step ; no crazy investment. 
We have a clear mission: "Let more people enjoy luxury".  This is how we started and this is what we still do today.  The strategy has not changed. 

TF - What has been the greatest challenge you have faced?

ASB - There are certainly a few.  One that comes up in my mind, because I was involved in this project on a daily basis, was to increase the production capacity of our own in-house movements.  In the first years our in-house movements were made in a very artisanal way.  Due to the enormous success, we had to scale it up and our production needed to be more industrialized.  This was an enormous challenge.

TF - What has been the greatest success?

ASB - For me there is not one "greatest" success.  I will mention a few - our first Heart Beat in 1994, our in-house movements, the move of our factory to Plan-les-Ouates, The Ladies Double Heart Collection and our Management Team.

TF -  What is a typical day in the life of Aleta Stas-Bax like?

ASB - There is no typical day for me as I travel quite often and my role in the company has changed over the last 2 years as we now have a strong Management Team and I do not lead the daily operations anymore. 
My 3 main tasks now are:
1) To represent the company by giving press conferences or presentations
2) Design strategy and design of the watches
3) Advise and implement the strategy for the supply chain 

Apart from my business role I also am a mother of 2 children.

TF - I know it might be difficult, but what is your favorite Frederique Constant watch?

ASB - It is indeed difficult to choose one.. If I have to I will choose the Ladies Double Heart Beat 
with black dial.
Courtesy of Frederique Constant

TF - Having worked in the watch industry for many years, I know that life "on the other side of the counter" is not nearly always exciting as watch fans think it must be. What is one "myth" about the watch industry that you would like to correct the fans about?

ASB -  I would say that it is very hard work, just as it is in any other industry.

TF - Frédérique Constant has done quite a bit of work for charitable causes - thank you by the way!  What motivates you to participate on such a high level?

ASB - We have the chance to live in a well developed country.  On top of that, we have a healthy company and we get to live our passion.  In 2007 we met Dr Novick, a cardiologist.  In addition to his job as a cardiologist, he is also working in the non-profit sector and has his own foundation.  After hearing his story, I realized that this is real passion.  As of that moment we started contributing to children's heart related charities as well as to heart related charities.

TF -  In speaking with Mr. Stas a few years back, he mentioned that your son was becoming quite a good writer and communicator about Frederique Constant and Alpina.  Would it be fair to say that this is a "family business" with the next generation of Stas family members joining the company in the future?

ASB - This would of course be very nice.  However it is their choice.  Our son will first study in the US and our daughter has a few more years before entering University.

TF - Not being Swiss, have the language or cultural differences provided any obstacles in growing your brands?

ASB - No I don't think so.  Peter speaks fluent German and my French is nearly fluent.  We have always been well received and supported by our Swiss suppliers. 

TF - What do you like to do in your "down time"?

ASB - When I have time I like to spend time with Peter and the kids, participate in some sports activities (alpine skiing, randonner skiing, tennis and golf) and meeting up with friends.

TF - You are one of the few women to work so prominently in what many view to be a male dominated industry.  Has this ever been a challenge?

ASB - I must say that I feel rather at ease in a male dominated industry and therefor it never bothered me.

TF -  If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

ASB - That is difficult to answer as I can not imagine doing something else.  Probably we would have started another business where creation of beautiful products is important.

TF - What advice to you have to someone hoping to conceive, create, and grow a brand in the watch industry?

ASB - This is impossible to write down in a few lines.  First of all be passionate about your watch idea.  The watch line needs to be distinctive from other brands, well positioned and at the right price. You need to be noticed, so participation at the Basel fair is essential.  I recommend reading our Live your Passion book where we try to explain our journey in building our brand.

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