Federico Ziviani (BSc Management, 2017) is the General Manager of luxury watchmaking company Maison Gerald Charles. The company have recently donated 30% of their profits to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund by World Health Organisation (WHO). We spoke to Federico about this decision and his journey from the Business School to his current role.
The practical approach of the Business School and its proximity to the City of London made my time as a student particularly enjoyable. I truly valued the numerous events and networking opportunities with the most vibrant companies in the City. The pragmatic approach of lecturers and their promotion of a proactive, business driven, problem solving skillset was particularly memorable for me. There was a real focus on teamwork throughout my course: being presented realistic business scenarios and being able to overcome real-life challenges in these teams put me in a better position for my entrepreneurial career. Having already experienced similar working dynamics, was an advantage in successfully handling team-working scenarios as an entrepreneur. In a nutshell, the great benefit of the Business School was taking us beyond the theory, directly into the practice.
You may be aware that one of your fellow City alumni was the famous watchmaker George Daniels. Could you share with us how you got into the watch industry?
I know by fame Mr. Daniels’ contribution to the high-end watchmaking industry. However, I was not aware he was an alumnus of City, University of London. It is a great pleasure to learn that information. The “fil-rouge” that connects me to the watch industry dates back over twenty years. My progression into the industry was more of a marathon than a sprint: ever since I was a little child, my family has been working in the watchmaking industry. I have always lived in close contact with the international watchmaking world. I had the great opportunity to meet the leading people in the industry and learn from their experience and gradually build my passion for watchmaking.
Now, as General Manager of Maison Gerald Charles, I am honoured to bring my family legacy into the future. My uncle Giampaolo Ziviani has been working at Maison Gerald Charles since its early days and had the great chance to work with our founder Mr. Gerald Charles Genta, known as the “Picasso of Watches”. He is the man behind the most successful wristwatches for “Patek Philippe”, “Audemars Pieguet”, “Omega”, “IWC”, “Cartier” and many more. I joined the company a few years ago, recognising a great opportunity to lead the digital transformation that is now the core strength of Gerald Charles at international level.
In March 2020, Gerald Charles announced that they would be donating 30% of net proceeds to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund by WHO. How did you come to this decision?
Because we were all suffering: humans are by nature a “social animal” but have been imprisoned by a global pandemic. This unique situation requires us to all do the best we can for each other rather than just think about ourselves. Therefore, it was important for us to play our part: Gerald Charles were the first to join the Swiss Division of the Solidarity Response Fund. We chose a global fund rather than a local one, to reflect the international base of our collectors: as we always say, Gerald Charles is an international Family. Indeed, it is important to point out that only thanks to the great support of our collectors were we able to donate as much as we did. Through us, they could pursue their passion for watchmaking and at the same time give their contribution to the world at a very challenging time.
How has the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company and how have you dealt with the challenges it posed?
Fortunately, Maison Gerald Charles was very well positioned before the outbreak. We had anticipated the need for digital transformation and completed this process in 2019. Our vision has always been to leverage the use of social media and digital channels at the service of our community. The pandemic brought us into the future much faster than expected, but we were ready to tackle the revolutionized dynamics in the watchmaking business. Digital is not impersonal at Gerald Charles and there are always people behind the screens ready to interact.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to follow in your footsteps?
There is not much to plan when it comes to getting into a new entrepreneurial activity: you have to trust your gut. The most important thing, and the most challenging, is to build the right team. A one-person company does not work. A diverse team, with complimentary skills, alongside correct management is what makes the difference between failure and success in business. In the end it all gets down to people.
Thank you, Federico, for all the work you are doing and for sharing your story with us!