First, how and where we come to life is not our choice but being respected for who we are is our right. Diversity makes our world richer and more beautiful. Second, self-respect begins with respecting others.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Bennouna.
Alexander Mehdi Bennouna is a Swiss businessman, entrepreneur, and author. Dedicating nearly 25 years to the Swiss watch industry, Alexander was a Sales Vice President for the Swatch Group and later the CEO of Victorinox Swiss Army Watch. As part of his tenure, he helped to expand Victorinox globally and introduce iconic collections such as INOX, directly shaping and establishing the reputation, and recognition of Victorinox in the watch market. Today, he is the Co-founder and CEO of DecideAndAct, a new responsible, high-quality Swiss-watch company committed to peace, diversity, and ecology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was born in East Germany to a Moroccan father and a German mother, lived in Syria and Egypt, and landed in Switzerland with my mother at the age of 7 after the loss of my father. I grew up in the heart of the watch-making region in a small town called Neuchâtel, where I discovered the Swiss know-how and craftsmanship. I was always passionate about history, culture, and arts, and I had the chance to combine all of that into one career path while embarking on the watch industry.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We don’t do business with our values, we do business for our values. Our motto is “Be the change you want to see”! I truly believe that business should support people and not the other way around. Therefore, we imagined a brand that goes beyond green design and enables everyone to show what they stand for.
If a watch should tell something about you it is what you really care about. Therefore we partner with artists to develop engaged designs and NGOs to support projects around our 3 ethos: diversity, peace, and ecology. For that, we pledge a minimum of 10% and up to 30% of the watch price.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was lucky enough to get invited to a party by Lady Gaga herself at a bar in Tokyo but I had no idea who she was and turned down the invitation. First, I learned that everyone has something beautiful and magical to offer. Furthermore, opportunities don’t knock at your door before entering. And last but not least, turning down invitations to parties can often be a mistake.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I had the privilege to work with Mr. Elsener, the CEO of Victorinox, and Mr. Hayek, the CEO of Swatch Group. The first one taught me that thinking with your heart and talking with your smile is the most powerful way of communication. The second one, that loyalty is a paramount value in business.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption starts with a questioning of the reason behind a way of doing things. Either this reason is solid and the way of doing things is legitimate and future proof. Or it is not and disruption becomes the necessary alternative towards progress. Our way of being disruptive at d&a is that we put the business at the service of people and the environment and not the other way around.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
First, how and where we come to life is not our choice but being respected for who we are is our right. Diversity makes our world richer and more beautiful. Second, self-respect begins with respecting others. Prosperity thrives in societies that provide fearless and threat-free public space for all citizens. And last but certainly not least, one is all and all is one. Ignoring nature’s balance threatens our environment and our future.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We are launching soon and there is nothing more important than truly committing to protect our environment and support our communities. DecideAndAct is entering the market with a watch collection, which is just the first step of a project aiming at building an engaged community around our ethos: diversity, peace, and ecology.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
No book, no podcast, no talk, but a smile. One day, a couple of decades ago, I walked out of a business hotel in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), stressed and in a bad mood, absorbed by many thoughts, when suddenly my eyes crossed the look of a young boy. He was around 10 and legless. He just smiled at me. In a fraction of a second, I learned that priorities are not always where we see them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That’s a tough question. How can a single quote hold a life lesson without reducing its complexity and beauty? So I would go for a poem of Omar Khayyam: “Between faith and unbelief, a breath, — between certainty and doubt, a breath. — Be joyful in the present breath where you live, — for life itself is in the passing breath.” This poem, about the relativity of things, taught me that we must not fall into the easy trap of judgment and privilege understanding in all circumstances.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Empower people to be the change they want to see. That’s what DecideAndAct is about: turning intention into reality. And this is exactly what we want to achieve.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
It was a pleasure, thank you so much for your time!