As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Altieri.
Paul Altieri is the Founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches, the world’s leading authority on vintage and pre-owned luxury timepieces. In addition to orchestrating the strategic vision for his company, Paul is a life-long watch enthusiast and one of the industry’s top vintage Rolex experts with decades worth of experience and an extensive collection of both vintage and modern timepieces.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My journey with watches began way back when I was a 14-year-old kid working as a golf caddy in New England during the summers. A lot of the club members where I worked were excellent golfers and also very successful in their professional lives. I remember looking up to them at the time and thinking how cool they were — and I noticed that a lot of them wore Rolex watches. Owning a Rolex became an aspiration of mine, and I remember thinking to myself that if I ever made it, I was going to buy myself a Rolex. That initial interest grew into a passion (some might say an obsession), and now watches are an integral part of my life.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Funny? Sure. I was determined to boot-strap the business from the start as opposed to raising money which for the most part has served us well. However, in our first year, we grew significantly beyond our projections and one day ran short of available cash to buy a super rare Rolex Paul Newman from a customer who had traveled across the country to sell me the watch. He knew what an avid vintage Rolex collector I was and he wanted me to have his watch in my collection. Unlike some dealers who will buy a watch and flip it for a quick profit, I will pay full value because I generally keep them. I was able to tap into an emergency line of credit that I had set up so thankfully made the purchase. I still have the watch today and its tripled in value. Moral of the story: don’t run out of cash. Startups will often fail not because they are not profitable ( often times they are ) but because they ran out of money. It always costs more and takes longer than you business plan may suggest.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The watch industry is relatively small and there is no way that anyone can operate within it for as long as I have without receiving some help from people along the way. Many of the individuals that have helped me out are now colleagues and friends of mine, and some of my closest personal relationships have come from the world of watches. With that in mind, Carol Altieri our COO (my wife) has been an instrumental part of managing and developing the daily operations of the business, and this has allowed us to grow to where we are today. Additionally, Joe (our CFO) and Justin (our in-house Photographer) have both been with the company since the very beginning and we are fortunate to have a wonderful team at Bob’s Watches, where every single member plays an integral role. It may sound cliché, but this is truly a team effort and I couldn’t do it without everyone’s help
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When I first started Bob’s Watches, our goal was to provide people with a safe and transparent way to buy and sell luxury watches at their true fair-market prices — and our goal remains the exact same to this day. The pre-owned luxury watch industry has changed dramatically since I first started this business more than ten years ago, but the core purpose of Bob’s Watches has not changed. Our goal is, and always will be, to provide customers with the absolute best possible way to buy, sell, and trade luxury watches.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Last year was the definition of uncertain times for the entire world. A global pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of life and when things first started, there were a lot of questions that simply didn’t have answers. The first thing we did was send out a company-wide notice to let everyone know that we as a business were on very firm footing and that we were all going to get through things together. Ever-changing health and safety guidelines continuously forced us to adapt how we operated, and we felt that it was important to keep our team involved and in-the-loop on all new developments. Transparency is a huge part of our business and a core component of everything we do — and that also extends to how we operate internally.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up just isn’t part of my personality, so throwing in the towel was never going to be an option. I’m a very competitive person by nature and whether we are talking about business or a relay race at a family reunion, part of me always wants to win. However, the thing that sustains my drive above all else is to continuously improve and be better at whatever I am doing. Whether it is in regards to business, sports, or any other aspect of life, your greatest competition will always be yourself, and you are never done competing.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
You always have to be looking ahead and moving forward because everyone else is doing the exact same. Even when you are at the top of your industry, if you are sitting still then you are actually losing ground because everyone is catching up. Challenging times often bring with them new opportunities, and a good leader needs to always be looking for those opportunities, rather than just focusing on contending with the challenges.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I am a firm believer that people produce their best work when they are happy, and it is also important for every single person to feel that they are a valued member of the team. Whether it is having a catering service come to the office several times per week, planning quarterly outings and events, or simply making sure that our kitchen and lounge are stocked with plenty of snacks and beverages, I want to make it comfortable and enjoyable to be at the office. Obviously, things like having a cohesive business plan and a high-level of organization are always essential to a thriving company, but if your team is unhappy, they will never be able to do their best work.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
One word: Honesty. Things happen in life and it is impossible to expect that everything will always go exactly as planned. People will be upset if things go wrong, but they will be even more upset if you try to hide it from them — or worse, lie to them. The old saying, “honesty is the best policy” exists for a reason, and it is especially true when it comes to business. Bob’s Watches was founded with 100% transparency being one of its core principles, and it will always be the foundation of everything that we do.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The future may be uncertain, but you can’t ever stop planning for it. If you spend all your time and energy just reacting to the things that happen, you will never be able to get ahead. Your plans may end up changing (and likely will) but you still need to make them. It is impossible to accomplish your goals if you don’t have a plan for how to achieve them.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Never stop looking for opportunities: Innovate or die. Turbulent times often mean that new opportunities will be created, and it is crucial that you are in a position to capitalize on them whenever they occur.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Many businesses go into survival mode during difficult times but in doing so, they often entirely overlook the opportunities that could have easily turned those difficult times into profitable ones. Additionally, the opposite can be just as detrimental and there are many businesses that simply do not account for the possibility of difficulties and then are entirely caught off-guard whenever they occur. Lastly, an unwillingness to adapt to changing times can destroy even the most stable businesses. The world is always changing and it is foolish to think that you will never need to change with it.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
It cannot be stressed enough that the key to maintaining growth through turbulent times is to never stop looking for new opportunities. Every time one door closes, another one opens and the first person through that door stands to make a profit. What those new opportunities look like can vary from one to the next, but if you’re not looking out for them, you will never be able to spot them first.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are 16:
1. Never accept mediocrity. Be the best and expect the Best! Have a passion for excellence.
2. Never stop hiring. Never! Run your company like a baseball team always building your farm system for future players.
3. Never rest on your laurels; don’t sit still. Be restless & set high goals. There is no such thing as coasting — You are either growing or slowing.
4. Speed counts. Business today moves at the speed of light. Market opportunities shut faster and peak sooner. That new opportunity will be gone by noon.
5. Invest in good people. People are NOT your greatest asset like the books all say. Good people are. There is a huge difference.
6. Focus on building long term value for the Company — Think long term….but remember you have to eat short term.
7. Embrace change, don’t fear it. Change is really the only constant and there are plenty of examples of companies who haven’t embraced it.
8. Dominate your trade area. Control your destiny or someone else will… Know your competition and be faster, better or cheaper. ( pick two )
9. Obstacles and walls and barriers to entry are good.
10. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is good….. It’s the best teacher.
11. Make every minute productive — there are no “rewind buttons” in life. Every down has to move the ball forward down the field.
12. Don’t hesitate to terminate a bad employee. You are holding them back from finding a better fit and it’s a waste of resources on your company.
13. The simple math of opportunity: Look for opportunities that present “ 1 + 1 = 3”. Anyone can get to 2, find ways to get to 3.
14. Don’t forget to aim high. If your fingers are touching the wall, you are standing too close. REACH!
15. It’s not what you do with the first 40 hours, its what you do with the second 40.
16. If you can’t outsmart your opponent ( competition ) then outwork them.
Please see www.paulaltieri.com.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Speed counts — You can build a better mousetrap, but it will mean nothing if someone beats you to it first.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find our website at bobswatches.com where new watches and blog articles are added daily — or follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @bobswatches.