To say that Stefanie Ng’s journey as Audemars Piguet’s regional head of operations hasn’t been smooth sailing would be an understatement. Barely two months into her appointment as CEO of Southeast Asia, including India and Australia, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. Four months later, in April, Singapore went into a two-month-long “circuit breaker” lockdown, which saw all retail operations temporarily grinding to a halt.
Despite the curveballs, Ng, who was promoted from within the company, is unfazed by the pressure of having to prove her mettle as Audemars Piguet’s first Singaporean and first female chief executive in the region. The challenges she faces, she says, are no different from that of any other leader.
“Crisis brings about creativity. We need to be resourceful and learn to challenge ourselves. This means adapting our strategies to the restrictions we are faced with today.”
To that end, Audemars Piguet rolled out virtual sessions and intimate presentations to engage clients across the region. New timepieces — Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph and Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Minute Repeater Supersonnerie — were also launched digitally, with the manufacture’s head of complications Michael Friedman connecting with guests over Webex.
“The challenge now is in how to make these experiences more creative,” Ng says. Fortunately, compelling marketing concepts is one area she excels in, having steered the Swiss watchmaker’s regional marketing initiatives the past seven years.
It was in 2019, during what she thought was just a casual chat with board member and former head of Audemars Piguet’s Asian operations Oliviero Bottinelli and CEO François-Henry Bennahmias that the possibility of her rising to the helm of Southeast Asia was first broached.
“They asked if I would be keen to progress,” she recalls, “and since I’ve always been interested in continuous career evolution, I knew that I would take the opportunity if it came.”
Ng is unperturbed by the fact that all her predecessors have been European men. After all, good leadership is not defined by gender constructs. “Part of what it means to lead is the ability to work together with your team. It’s never about one mastermind finding the solution to everything; it’s about the ability to communicate. Good leaders can emotionally align themselves with their audience through conversations and consequently, through the policies that they roll out. The need to implement hard policies should also be tackled using the softest possible way,” she says.
Having flourished and grown professionally under transformational leaders, her own approach naturally centres on inspiration, motivation and mobilisation.
“Having said that, I think that as leaders, we need to adapt and be flexible in how we administer our leadership methods and that’s what I apply in my role. I am also a firm believer in leading by example. I started from the ground up and this has allowed me to understand what my team members are doing as well as what they need to achieve goals,” she shares.
Although the watch industry has traditionally and predominantly been male dominated, a rapidly evolving socio-economic world has made this a thing of the past. At Audemars Piguet, “the company believes in diversity and identifies talents with essential traits. Our president of the board of directors is Jasmine Audemars, and our chief brand officer and head of product are both women. It’s not about gender but about the suitability of the talent,” says Ng.
This conviction has spurred her to implement a talent management programme for her staff.
“Just like how I was able to evolve and progress, I want to pay it forward. We start by identifying employees whom we can groom into future leaders and work together with them on their development needs and progression plan. When the opportunity comes, we have a ready pool of leaders to succeed. People need to grow together with the company,” she explains.
Part of what it means to lead is the ability to work together with your team. It’s never about one mastermind finding the solution to everything; it’s about the ability to communicate.”Stefanie Ng
Another key implementation made when Ng assumed her role was the renovation of the brand’s Singapore office, something she refers to as an “enhancement and re-energising” move. The redesigned office is open plan and bright, with a decisively younger vibe and meeting rooms with tongue-in-cheek names such as Bored Room, Seriously?, Silence… and Sweet Talk. On one wall, a large neon sign serves as a reminder that “We are part of something awesome”.
“Since we were expanding, we also needed to adapt to the changing workforce needs. I wanted our office to be a place that encouraged more cross-functional or cross-team dialogue,” she says.
With barely a month left to the new year, we probed Ng for the company’s plans for 2021. The CEO is tight-lipped but teases: “It won’t be long now, you’ll just have to wait a little while longer.”