From Michael Jackson’s iconic white glove to the star on top of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Swarovski crystals seemingly pop up everywhere.
There is a real-life Swarovski behind all those flawless crystals: Nadja, the forty-something great-great-granddaughter of the company’s founder.
After joining her family’s company in 1995, a hundred years after it was founded, Swarovski has been a member of the executive board since 2011 and is head of corporate communications and design services.
For latest “Life Lessons” series, Swarovski talked with us about how to polish and perfect a high-quality gem of a life.
Q: Did you grow up hearing stories about your great-great grandfather, and how he created his business?
A: Absolutely. Daniel Swarovski was a pioneer, completely ahead of his time.
He was an extraordinary man and endlessly curious. He was a glass cutter from what is now known as the Czech Republic. He learned the art of glass cutting by hand.
He went to the first electricity fair in Vienna and saw inventions by Edison and Siemens, and his mind opened up. He invented a machine to cut crystal, and within a decade, he was able to refine it to brilliance. The greatest lesson from him was learning to never settle.
Q: What did your dad teach you about money and the responsibilities of continuing a family business?
A: There’s a German saying which translates to “The continuous drop hollows the stone.” In other words, just keep it up.
My father was also was fond of saying: “If the boss doesn’t show up, others won’t come either.” In business, you need to show up if you expect others to do the same.
Q: How did you manage to carve out your own niche within the company?
A: When I joined the family business in 1995, I saw an opportunity for our brand to align more closely with leaders in those disciplines like art, architecture, fashion, design and culture. I saw a great opportunity to introduce another creative material, mainly crystals, to the visionaries of our time.
I think that is what attracted the likes of Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Zaha Hadid and others to implement this material to fulfill their artistic needs.
Q: What is it like being the only female member of the executive board?
A: It is challenging. Mostly, because Swarovski has more than 30,000 employees, with a presence in 170 countries. There are a lot of interests, opinions and people vying for attention.
But also, because I’m a woman, I see the world differently and see value in things that my male counterparts might not.
Q: With your own assets, do you tend to prefer a particular asset class?
A: I think the best advice is the oldest: Diversify. Stocks, bonds or real estate can all be great if you’re thoughtful about what you’re investing in.
But I also enjoy investing in art. I collect quite a bit by Marc Quinn, who works in visual arts and sculpture. I also collect Annie Leibovitz photography. And I’m fond of collecting many design pieces. I have pieces by Fredrikson Stallard, Gaetano Pesce, Amanda Levete and Zaha Hadid.
Q: How do you decide where you can have the most philanthropic impact?
A: Clean water and sustainability would be high on the list because those are so ingrained in the business and my everyday life.
We have a water school in seven countries that provides clean drinking water and sanitation to communities in need and also educates communities on the importance ecological, economic, social and cultural issues that affect water use. We have nearly 9,000 teachers working on behalf of over 500,000 community members.
Q: Will your children be involved in the family business too?
A: They are very young still. The family business is always a possibility, but I want them to choose their own path.
I had many different work experiences before joining the family business, and the business is better for it.
My job is to give them my best, always support them, and let them take it from there.