As a fourth-generation member of the Mouawad family, Fred Mouawad inherited his father’s and forefathers’ entrepreneurial spirit. Raised in Geneva, Switzerland, Fred attended boarding school at College du Leman. He was fascinated by management from an early age and studied business throughout his career. He has a Business Administration degree from Pepperdine University, and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School (MBA) and the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Executive Program). Fred is also a Graduate Gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Tanja Beljanski: As a fourth-generation member, co-guardian and head of the diamond division of the 120-year-old Mouawad family business, what are in your opinion some of the most important principles of building multi-generational business?
Fred Mouawad: Being a family business, it is essential to build relationships, not only among family, but among employees and clientele. Authenticity is also integral – to be true to yourself, to believe in what you do, and to have a vision that you work to implement that ensures you add value and make an impact. There is also the principle of respecting your heritage while also innovating to remain relevant in the future.
TB: You have been selected to design and make the spectacular 2020 Miss Universe crown. What does the crown you designed consists of and what is the symbol of the 'Miss Universe’ crown?
FM: We began a partnership in 2019 with the Miss Universe Organization, which is ongoing and involves us crafting a series of crowns, beginning with the Miss Universe 2020 Power of Unity Crown. As its title suggests, the crown carries a message that we are stronger united. The crown was inspired by the values associated with The Miss Universe Organization, such as strength, women’s empowerment and the bonds that unite communities. These values are represented in the motifs and gemstones. The crown’s centerpiece is a magnificent modified mixed cut golden canary diamond weighing 62.83 carat, which signifies a women’s inner strength, while the two golden canary diamonds either side create a sense of harmony, together reminding us that in unity, lies power. More recently we just released the first details of the Miss Universe Thailand 2020 Crown, titled the Power of Authenticity. This crown reflects the message of this year’s Miss Thailand pageant, “Real U, Real Miss Universe”, and carries the message to be true to yourself and celebrate what makes you unique.
TB: Besides Mouawad family’s high jewelry and watches business, you have founded and you are the CEO of seven companies including the famous Coffee Shop chain in SE Asia 'Coffee World' and cloud based collaboration platform taskworld.com. In terms of enterprising, if you’ve had a breakthrough moment in your life, what was it?
FM: The breakthrough is that I had the courage and fortitude to start ventures from just an opportunity I identified based on my observation of the marketplace. I was not daunted by the difficulty ahead, but just started in the spirit of wanting to create a valuable service to society and build a team of highly capable people that would drive the ventures. What motivates me is building a new venture and bringing people along to fulfill the mission. It’s the organizational aspect of a venture and the service rendered to customers that fascinates me the most. I started Coffee World and four other food service brands, because I wanted to deliver great experiences around food and beverages and assemble a team that would be passionate taking part of the journey. I founded Taskworld because I faced the pain points of not having a proper IT platform to manage and oversee multiple projects, so I created one that would meet my needs and those of other enterprises at large. The process of creating value through a product and service is what drives me to become an entrepreneur.
TB: Do you think being a business-owner and leader is sometimes more difficult than being an employee?
FM: Every job at every level has its challenges. The important thing is to believe in what you do, to be driven by a passion for it and to appreciate that hard work brings its own rewards.
TB: In every business, as in life, there are good and bad times. How do you overcome the fear when you stumble upon the obstacles? And what pushes you forward?
FM: I stay focused on what I can control. When I face adversity, I think of what I can do to improve the situation and not dwell on the magnitude of the problem. Very rarely does the situation go as we would like it to. The road is filled with obstacles and challenges. If you view these challenges as “opportunities” to improve a situation, then you’re driven and energized by the journey. Being an entrepreneur requires that you sustain for a long period of time the challenges of building an enterprise. You keep the mission in mind, and on a daily basis try to advance towards that vision.
TB: What does success mean to you?
FM: Success is relative and subjective. For me it’s what you can contribute to others. Are you making the people and the world around you better? Is your enterprise doing a good job compared to its competitors and are you serving customers well? It does not matter how big your business is or what your position in a company is. If you render a valuable service to society and live by your values you’re successful.
TB: When did you discover your personal passion for gemstones?
FM: I discovered my passion for gemstones after studying gemology at the Gemological Institute of America. The more I learned about gemstones, and the more I became passionate about the blend of science and art. At the beginning of my career, I was fascinated by the inclusions (internal characteristics of gems) in rubies and sapphires. I love to observe inclusions under a microscope to determine origin and potential treatments. My passion later expanded to rough diamonds. The entire process of buying a rough diamond and transforming it into a polished gem is thrilling and fascinating. It requires knowledge, experience, and courage. The uncertainty is high at the beginning and it diminishes as the gem nears its final polish stage.
TB: How would you describe your jewelry? What separates Mouawad from other jewelry brands? What is your major contribution to the high jewelry industry?
FM: We are known for ‘crafting the extraordinary’, reflected in our several Guinness World Records, our Miss Universe Crowns, our ever-growing collection of unique crafted diamonds, and extraordinary jewelry masterpieces, to name just a few examples.
What separates us from other jewelry brands is not only that we craft the extraordinary but that we are completely vertically integrated as a company, meaning every aspect of craftsmanship is produced in-house by us, from the sourcing of the gemstones to the finished item and also the retailing. This allows us to assure our clientele of quality and of adhering to ethical standards. There is another differentiator, which is that we are still a family business, with 130 years of heritage. It is rare to find a jewelry house in its fourth generation – and with its fifth coming onboard – of family ownership.
In terms of our major contribution to the high jewelry industry, I would like to think that it relates to upholding standards, advocating for education, ethics, innovation, and, of course, sharing with the world some of the most extraordinary gemstones in existence.
TB: Have you noticed any particular jewelry trends in the Middle East lately?
FM: I would say that globally we are seeing a trend toward authentic luxury, where jewelry is more than an adornment; it is the desire for a unique item whose story adds to the allure, but also to know that its journey and creation are in line with ethical standards and sustainable philosophies.
TB: What is the one piece of Mouawad jewelry that every woman should invest in?
FM: Every woman is unique and as such there is not one piece that every woman should invest in. Jewelry should spark an emotional connection with its wearer and reflect or amplify their personality.
TB: The jewelry piece you are the most proud of?
FM: In recent times, the Mouawad Dragon is the most memorable. This is the largest round brilliant vivid yellow diamond in the world, weighing 54.21 carat, and it was crafted by Mouawad from the rough. It was given its name as its color is reminiscent of the Dragon’s magical powers and fiery eye. After crafting it from the rough, Mouawad then designed and crafted the Mouawad Dragon Suite, a set of necklace, bracelet, earrings, and ring showcasing five Fancy Vivid and Deep yellow diamonds totaling over 153 carat, and 432 colorless diamonds totaling over 272 carat, with the Mouawad Dragon as the pinnacle of these.
TB: When did you first learn about the value of money?
FM: Learning about the value of money requires that you are clear about what you personally value in life. Your values determine how you spend your time and money. Since a young age, my goal was to constantly learn and improve. I did not necessarily seek materialism, but more spirituality and knowledge. When you’re clear about what you value you better understand how to manage and invest money.
TB: What do you invest in?
FM: I like investing in ventures that have the potential for providing a positive customer experience. At present, I continue investing in Taskworld, which is a platform aiming at improving how teams around the world collaborate. As a family, we keep on investing in large and rare rough diamonds. I do think that diamonds long term will keep on appreciating in value. There are economic cycles, but long term it’s a rare commodity and an asset class that does not physically depreciate. I also want to continue investing my time and resources on social impact projects through the Mouawad Diamond Impact Fund. We have a lot of ideas we still want to implement to scale our impact in helping communities in need by providing them with knowledge and skills.
TB: Take us through a day in your busy life.
FM: My days vary significantly based on what I need to accomplish and where my time is required. I typically plan weeks in advance and try to be mindful about what I should or not do. I try to delegate what others can do and try to focus my time on what I need to do to keep on making progress in my group of companies. I put work first, family second, my social and business network third, and myself last. I typically work 12 to 14 hours a day. During the pandemic, I’m trying to recalibrate my priorities to focus more on myself to stay mentally healthy.
TB: How has coronavirus impacted upon your business? What changes have you had to implement to your business to diversify? And how are you supporting your companies or employees at this time?
FM: Covid-19 has impacted the world like no other event in living memory. We have responded by ensuring the wellbeing of our staff and customers and by following governmental health and safety advice in each of the countries in which we operate. This has in previous months involved temporary closure of boutiques and offices, and then more recently reopening with measures in place to minimize the risk to all.
TB: What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?
FM: I try to do less and focus on what is most essential for me to do. Prioritizing and being mindful of how to spend time to maximize impact is what allows me to do more. This requires that I typically keep larger blocks of free time on my agenda, and commit to fewer meetings and projects.
TB: You were a part of YPO which is a global leadership organization and were the Southeast Asia Regional Chair, and you work closely with like-minded CEOs all over the world. 3 tips for blossoming entrepreneur?
FM: I was the YPO Southeast Asia Regional Chair from 2017 to 2019. YPO is a great organization. I’m greatly inspired by the organization’s mission of ‘creating better leaders through lifelong learning and idea exchange.’ By engaging with YPO and its members, I became a better leader. The world needs better leaders, and with better leaders we can make the world better.
My tip to blossoming entrepreneurs is to first make sure you have the right business model so you can generate profits sustainably. This is a pre-requisite for building a viable organization. The second tip is to assemble the right team and create the right environment so all team members can grow individually and collectively, so they can better collaborate and align towards the mission. The third is to be customer centric. Stay close to your customers and make sure you constantly adapt to serve them well.
TB: Life lessons and wisdom. What’s some life lessons and wisdom you’ve learned by now?
FM: Take on challenges and aim to constantly learn and improve. You want to get rich in professional experiences and not simply pursue monetary wealth. You also want to develop particular strengths you can leverage to assist those around you grow in some way. In the end what will matter most is how you have lived your life, whether you lived them through noble values, and how you have treated and helped those around you directly or through the organizations you work for.
TB: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned when it comes to entrepreneurship?
FM: Being an entrepreneur is a very tough profession that is not meant for everyone. You need to be comfortable taking calculated risks, willing to lose your investment, have the ability to work and galvanize teams, and work hard and at all times to make your vision a reality. The biggest lesson is choosing the right business to start and the second is learning when to exit if what you’ve tried is not working. Both are very hard to do. Entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas and their tenacity at times keeps them going when they should stop. When the chance of building a profitable and sustainable business become slim, and entrepreneur should move on and refocus their efforts in other areas that can create value.
TB: Your family is a strong proponent for education. Tell us more about this.
FM: Definitely. It is certainly a Mouawad value to believe in the power of education, the importance of sharing knowledge and to be committed to supporting it. A testament to this is our support for the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the world’s leading authority and educator on diamonds, pearls, and colored stones, where the Robert Mouawad Campus is named after our father. More recently, we launched the Mouawad Diamond Impact Fund (MDIF) as a permanent philanthropic initiative, with a mission to create value by bettering lives of underprivileged communities across the world through education and skills development.
TB: What living person do you most admire?
FM: I admire humanity as a whole, and the ability for anyone to rise under extraordinary circumstances. We tend to glorify humans at the head of states and organizations. These men and women are indeed extraordinary, but I believe every human is extraordinary and every one of us is capable of a great feat when needed. It’s the uncelebrated heroes that inspire me the most.
TB: Where are you most at peace?
FM: I’m most at peace when I’m in nature. I also try to focus on my breathing to stay calm and centered. I try to find that state of mind wherever I am and whenever I feel the need to calm down. It’s a way of conditioning my mind regardless of context, time and location.