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My working day: Ulysse Nardin CEO, Patrick Pruniaux

Words by Rob Chilton

Early morning runs, green tea and ambient music

Patrick Pruniaux tells EDGAR how he navigates a typical day in the office.

The first thing I do when I get to work is turn on some music. It could be something by the modern pianist Chilly Gonzales, or some ambient music or even electronic.

I never wear a tie. I wear sneakers every day but today, because I’m meeting you, I thought I'd better look smart and not wear sneakers! There are no suits in the office at Ulysse Nardin. The world - and the traditions of business - are changing.

I don’t drink coffee, I have green tea. I always break for lunch because if I don’t eat, my attention decreases and I become the worst boss ever – just ask Karine who’s been my PA for almost 10 years. I have a French passport so it has to be a proper lunch for 45 minutes!

I like my desk to be as empty as possible because it frees my mind. I have one framed picture on my desk, which was a gift from the financial controller at Apple in London, where I used to work. When I worked there I ate sweets all the time. The frame is filled with candies and written on the glass is the message: ‘Patrick, in case of emergency, break glass.’

Pruniaux in the workshop

Everything I write is on my iPad and MacBook Pro. I went paperless several years ago. Having everything in digital formats is a lot more efficient because I’m travelling all the time. I love to write on the iPad and share the notes between my devices.

I check emails all the time, which is probably not the best discipline in the world. I definitely try to have zero unread emails in my inbox at the end of every day. I’m quite good at leaving work in the office and not taking it home – it’s good for my mental health.

Meetings are super important for decision making and ideas. Some of the best ideas come when there’s no agenda so it’s good to initiate some topics that you’re not sure about. I want to nurture the excitement and passion of my team without putting too much burden on their shoulders with systems and reports.

The brand's new Dubai Mall store

I wanted to make the new Ulysse Nardin store in The Dubai Mall inviting... but younger? I’m careful with the word younger, maybe because I’m getting older. It’s not fair to define people by age group these days. I know people in their 20s and 30s who are extremely boring and I know people aged 60 who are really fun. The mindset and level of curiosity in a person is far more important than their age.

Our office is in the remote countryside in Switzerland and that’s who we are. I usually go for a run in the mountains before work. The sun on the Swiss mountains looks absolutely magnificent early in the morning. When I was a teenager I had the choice to continue high school or become a ski instructor, which was always my dream. I chose school. But now the great thing is that I live and work in a ski resort!

The most valuable lesson I learned in business was from John Kemp who was the head of Africa for Guinness. One day I talked to John about our consumers and he said, ‘Patrick, they are not consumers, they are drinkers.’ It’s the same today at Ulysse Nardin: they are not consumers, they are watch lovers. I learned not to use buzzwords or business slang because it’s meaningless. There’s a quote from the author Albert Camus: ‘If you don’t name things properly, that’s where the issues in the world start.’

I spent a year in the French paratrooper regiment after I left university. The best compliment you could receive from the commander was if he called you calm. I always remember that. What does it require to be calm? How can we step back and be cold-blooded and calm?

Watch dial

There’s a story that gets told at Harvard Business School that I like. The White House printed off millions of posters of an American president in the 1930s with a painting behind him. But they never asked the painter for his permission to use his painting. They couldn’t destroy millions of posters so they sent someone to fix it. The White House guy told the painter, ‘Listen, we want to have your painting in the background of a poster of the President. How much are you willing to pay for that?’ It’s a great lesson in how you can turn a bad situation into an opportunity.

How do I know if I’ve had a good day at the office? That’s a tough one. Because even if I have a success, I’m always looking for the next one.

Being relaxed is really important at work. Do you remember the tennis player Ivan Lendl? I loved him and wanted to be like him because he was so calm. I’m always really impressed by sports stars who can keep calm under pressure, that’s how you know who the truly great ones are.

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