December 1, 2020

The Boss: Bearing the Family Torch

At the age of 12, I served an internship in the Riedel Crystal factory for two weeks. My father wanted to show me how work related to school. He was smart to do that because I wasn’t the best student, and the experience turned me around.  

At 16, I went to boarding school in Salzburg, and at 18  enrolled in a business management course in Kufstein, Austria. I’d attend it three days a week, and on the other two days I’d work in our factory, in sales and administration. I rebelled for a time as a teenager, but watching my father as a businessman gave me perspective. It taught me a lot about family and work relationships.

At the time, Austrians were required to serve eight months in the military. I completed my service after business school. I was used to the regimentation and heavy athletic program from boarding school, so I enjoyed my time in the service. My group was involved in humanitarian work. There were avalanches that year, and we were ready to assist people.

In the late 1990s, my father sent me to Dubai to increase our customer base. We had only one customer there at the time. Out of respect for the country’s general religious beliefs about  alcohol, we decided not to sell our wine glasses there. Instead we sold our other products — giftware, bowls and vases.

At 20, I went to work for one of our Paris distributors. It sounds glamorous, but it wasn’t that easy at first. I had left a girlfriend in Austria, and I wasn’t fluent in the language. Though I had learned French in school, I took a two-week crash course at Berlitz in Paris to speak it much better.

At 23, I moved to America to become executive vice president of our American business. We were doing about $10 million in sales. All the employees were older than me. I thought I could just jump in, be passionate and go from there, but no one trusted me. Even with my father’s training and with business school, I was unprepared. But I won the employees over and increased sales substantially in five years.

I became C.E.O. at 25. The most difficult part was analyzing some employees and realizing I had to let them go.

To develop a line of wine glasses for restaurants, I talked to chefs. They wanted glassware that was dishwasher-safe, among other things. It took me a year to determine what was needed. I designed a durable glass with a shorter stem called Riedel Restaurant.

Later, when I moved from Long Island to a small apartment in Hoboken, N.J., I learned what kind of glassware worked best for apartment dwellers. For example, when I returned from work in the evening, I wanted a wine glass that was beautiful and stackable but more casual than our others. I designed the wine glass that I needed for myself, our stemless “O” line. The glass was controversial in our family because my grandfather always said there’s a reason for a long stem — it allows you to swirl the wine in the glass for the best aroma. Americans, however, don’t adhere to that thinking.

I’ve belonged to the Young Presidents’ Organization for four years. It’s been helpful because I didn’t grow up here — I’ve learned how Americans conduct business. Once a month, I sit around a table with 10 other members. We talk about personal and business issues, and I can be myself.

I have only lately realized the importance of my heritage. It animates me because I don’t want to be the last of our line. I hold the torch now. 

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d8d241396153fa9cb5798a7ea46e1f08

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