9.29.2015

Avoiding Setbacks by Staying Small

By  
Max Büsser is chief executive of MB&F, an independent luxury watch brand.
The motto of MB&F is, “A creative adult is a child who survived.” How well did the creative child survive in you?
I was a supercreative child, like many children, I think. But growing up, I lost a lot of that
creativity to become a very boring young adult. It all started coming back to me in my mid-30s, when I stopped obsessing about the consequences of what I created. I guess from 15 to 30 years old I was so sensitive to what people thought of me that I actually stopped taking risks and being me.
Did you show an entrepreneurial streak as a child?
Not that I can think of. There were no entrepreneurial or artistic references in my family or even in my social environment. I dreamed of being a car designer during my entire childhood, but it was always “working for” someone. It seemed clear to me that I would be working for a big company, like my father before me.
How has your upbringing influenced your leadership style?
My mother always told me I was smart and that I could do anything I set my sights on. My parents probably had more confidence in me than I had in myself. On the other hand, my father was unfortunately very short on praise. He actually never told me, “Bravo,” or that he was proud of me. So very early in life I became an overachiever to try to impress him. He passed away without telling me those words I was so longing to hear, but it pretty much shaped the man I am: driven and a perfectionist. Which does not make it easy for those who work for me. I am as demanding on myself as on any member of my team, and they all know that. And even though I try to improve, I’m unfortunately not very good at giving praise either.
Do you remember the first time you managed a team?
I was very young and completely clueless. My first job at Jaeger- LeCoultre entailed, among other things, that I was heading the sales administration department. I cannot remember very well, because it was 24 years ago, but I probably was a pretty bad manager. Not able to give clear guidelines and at the same time expecting everyone to perform perfectly. On the other hand, my team could always rely on exemplarity: I was always working much more than anyone else and was much harder on myself than on those who worked with me.
Now that you are the boss, what are you looking for in people you are hiring?
Great human values, driven personalities, people motivated by pride rather than money, and people capable of taking a step forward in the face of adversity. I created MB&F around my strengths but also around my shortcomings: I am not good at praising, so I hire people who do not need that so much. I am not good at organization and processes, so I brought in Serge Kriknoff, my partner in the company and our chief technology officer, who loves that.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur?
Expect the worst to happen, because it will. We had four extremely tough situations along the 10 years of MB&F. None was related to the others and all four followed great years, so each time we did not see them coming. What saved us: We remained small and flexible, we innovated to get out of trouble and could count on great people in and around our team. I think one shouldn’t become an entrepreneur because you think you can make money, as there is a 90 percent chance you will be bankrupt in the first three years. Instead, create a company because it is your calling, because you will not be able to look at yourself in a mirror going forward if you don’t try. Never ever relent, always treat people the way you would like to be treated, and never transgress your values at any point.
What would you tell your younger self?
Be kinder with those who were there for you — and much tougher with those who do not share the same human values.

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