Yuki Srikarnchana: Marking time

Some people know what they want in life, and they chase their ambition relentlessly. Others, it’s reassuring to know, take their time when it comes to finding their passion.

For Yuki Srikarnchana, taking her time has had something of a literal meaning. Since 1992, she’s beenthe managing director of exclusive watch retailers Pendulum. Locals with a taste for the luxurious frequent Pendulum’s three outlets, which stock more than ten international renowned brands, and the company also represent Bvlgari in Thailand.

It’s a multimillion baht business, but Yuki emphasises the sedate nature of the industry. “Watches are not very exciting business! It’s not fast-moving in the way that soething like IT is,” she says. Nevertheless, it’s a business she has grown to love, despire the road there taking some sharp diversions.

Yuki was born in Japan and grew up living around the world: Indonesia, Germany and the UK, where she received a bachelor of arts in drama and film studies. It was a childhood that taught Yuki and her siblings a lot. “We were exposed to different cultures, and therefore growing up we learned to interact with people from other cultures,” she says. “We learned not to feel shy or nervous when meeting foreigners.”

Armed with her degree, Yuki came back to Thailand when she was 21, but her Thai language skills had suffered while living as a global nomad, so she gave up hopes of teaching drama, and instead followed in her father’s footsteps into the banking world.

The experiment lasted two years. “I just knew that it wasn’t for me. So I moved on. I went to the Shangri La hotel when it first opened, which was a big change. It was faster, and more sales oriented.”

After a year there, however, Yuki found she was still not feeling fulfilled. She answered an advertisement for account executives at advertising agency Leo Burnett, and despite a lack of experience, was offered a position. “It was more of what’s me. It was very challenging, very fast-moving and more action- oriented.”

She stayed there happily for more than two years, then married and started a family. She worked part time after the birth of her first daughter, now aged 12, but following the birth of her second daughter, now aged 11, she left permanently.

“Pendulum came along after I’d been at home for around three years,” Yuki says. “I got a call froma friend whose husband was opening a watch retail shop, and they needed someone to take care of the business. The rest is history!”

In fact, the birth of Pendulum began when ML Chaiyotid Kridakorn (brother of Suriyothai actress ML Piyapas Bhirombakdi) was buying a Patek Phillipe watch in Singapore. He ended up falling into conversation with the shop owner and confided his dream of opening a niche-market retail shop in Bangkok, where the market had not yet been cornered.

Pendulum opened its first outlet two years later in the Peninsula Plaza. “It was very, very well-received. Our product mix was very strong, so people were very interested – especially men who enjoyed watches.”

Originally the mix was about 80% men’s watches, and 20% jewellery, but that’s now changed to be a 60/40 split as the female market has matured. Nevertheless, serious collectors remain largely male. “Each brand brings out something new every year, so there is always something to tempt collectors,” says Yuki, adding that spending upwards of Bt500,000 is not unusual for those making a serious investment.

There were less than a handful of staff back in 1992; now there are more than 60 employees.

Yuki describes being responsible for Pendulum as the biggest challenge of her career. There were plenty of sleepless nights, she says, worrying about everything from personnel to to operations to money matters. “If something goes wrong, even though you’re not directly responsible for it, it’s still your responsibility. You do get used to it, and better at it. I’m still learning, and you learn from your mistakes.”

At a personal level, the hardest thing at the start for Yuki was leaving her children behind. “I had been there for 24 hours a day, so it was difficult for them … I really didn’t think I’d survive. But after the shop had been open for around six months, everything started falling into place.”

Around that time, Yuki fell pregnant with her third daughter, now eight, but this time she didn’t give up work. “She was a very easy baby. I think you feel more relaxed by then as well – but to get to that stage, that was very difficult.”

Yuki wants her daughters to choose careers with passion. “Then you’ll do your job well. If you don’t have passion, you won’t feel fulfilled.”

It’s advice that Yuki takes to hear when it comes to managing Pendulum. She has surrounded herself with staff she describes as passionate and dedicated, and she emphasises the importance of teamwork and respect in her office.

In a word, Yuki’s management style is casual. “I encourage people to walk around, to talk to each other. I don’t have meetings. If people don’t come in to sit and talk to me, I’ll go out and talk to them. I believe if your colleagues interact well, if they’re happy, if there are good vibes, then the company will progress.”

To be a good manager, Yuki thinks, you need to know how to be a subordinate. Other important qualities are good judgement, and good listening skills. “And as a manager, you should project a very positive attitude, no matter what your mood. You might have family problems, or the company might be in trouble, but you have to be very strong. If you give up, your staff will lose their motivation.”

Indeed, the business has had its ups and downs – the same as any luxury import business in Thailand. Difficulties have included fluctuating taxes and currencies, and the vagaries of the business cycle. “People don’t really need watches, so sales ride with the economy. When the economy is bullish, people of course spend more,” Yuki explains.

So of course, as for many Thai businesses, the crash period of 1997 onwards was the worst. “We lost a lot of customers, and for qutie a long time. It was horrible. We were really having thoughts about whether we would survive.”

But survive they did. How?

Yuki believes it was the company’s style of operations. “We were always very conservative, and we didn’t dream too big. We didn’t have any big offices. We didn’t have an oversupply of staff.” In fact, despite concerns of survival, not a single staff member was laid off, and staff turnover remains very low.

Now that the business is “very much in place now”, Yuki salvages some time to relax when she can. “I have a very simple life these days. I don’t really have a night life. I go home, see my children. My relaxation is really just watching TV.”

Yuki also finds solace in spending her weekends cooking. Or you might spot her with her family at their favourite Japanese restaurant (it’s Gengi at the Hilton) or less frequently somewhere French or Italian.

On the subject of a favourite watch, Yuki shows her diplomacy by declining to answer. “I have lots of favourite watches! It depends on my mood, on my dress. If I’m wanting something dressy, I’ll go for something with diamonds, if sporty, something casual.”

Regardless of what she does choose, it’s clear that Yuki’s enjoying having the time of her life.

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