As the president and chief executive of the world's largest producer of jewellery, Anders Colding Friis is remarkably fuss-free — no airs, no bravado, just a down-to-earth Danish gent with a firm handshake and a gentle smile. We're seated in one of the meeting rooms in PANDORA's new production facility in Lamphun, Thailand, and there's a recognisable hint of exhaustion mixed with pride and relief.
Why? This new production plant, which accommodates 5,000 employees and is optimised for the more time-consuming products in the brand's portfolio, is a major milestone for PANDORA who has been manufacturing its jewellery in Thailand since 1989. Officially opened in March 2017, the Lamphun facility is part of a bold expansion project by the company to double its production capacity to more than 200 million pieces of jewellery a year by the end of 2019. (That's a lot of charms, rings, necklaces and bracelets!) No wonder Friis is relieved; he's just pulled off a strategic move that positions PANDORA to meet, and capitalise on, the increasing global demand for the brand's hand-finished products.
After a hearty meal at the Lamphun canteen, feeling slightly sluggish with that post-lunch daze, I speak to Friis about how PANDORA manages to hit the sweet spot of craftsmanship with scale; the key to uniting employees towards a common goal; and what he would like to be remembered for when he eventually leaves PANDORA (which, in his words, "won't happen for many, many, many more years").
Visiting the new production facility here in Lamphun, what strikes me is how you've taken craftsmanship and made it scalable. Looking at the supply side, can you tell us what challenges you had to overcome to make this possible? We started with the Gemopolis factory in Bangkok so we've had quite a number of years of experience in making craftsmanship scalable. However, what we learnt from our Bangkok facility was that product has to be move between different buildings — we have about between 15 to 16 buildings for product to pass through — and this process slows down production. So we took that learning and applied it to the construction of this Lamphun facility; ensuring that the flow of product was optimal and smooth to enhance overall productivity.
Great. What other examples can you share? One of the challenges that we've seen at Gemopolis is that when we apply more stones to our products, if you don't get this right, you'll crack the stones later in the process when the gypsum plaster is removed from the product mould. So we had to improving training and competency benchmarks in order to get this right. It all comes down to details.
As a relatively new chief executive, having joined PANDORA in 2015, what's at the top of your to-do list? Well, a lot of things! (Laughs.) First and foremost, it's to continue our journey. And to continue our journey, we have to make changes all the time. For example, we have made organisational changes in PANDORA and also implemented improvements to the links in our value-chain. No matter what company you go into, the challenge is always the links in your value-chain. People might think they work great in a department, but when work inter-department, it is a challenge. One of my fascinations with PANDORA is that we actually control our value-chain — from the design and production all the way down to meeting our customers on the shop floor — and we need to make sure we strengthen those ties between each chain.
Talking about your value-chain, what do you think presents the greatest area for improvement? Generally, I think we can improve everywhere. And we do that every single day. But we have done a lot to develop our store footprint over the last few years, intentionally moving more into concept stores, and we have seen great results from this. However, in my opinion, everything can still be improved.
On a more esoteric level, do you think the role of PANDORA is to inspire or fill a demand? I think it is to fill a demand for inspiration! (Laughs.) I do think we inspire, but it's also about what our products mean to our consumers. The consumers have a clear purpose when they buy a PANDORA product, and that also serves as an inspiration to us. Our products are meaningful. However, it is the individual consumer that puts the meaning into the product they purchase.
"I strongly believe that there is still so much potential in PANDORA, and it's my role to help set that free"
Looking forward, would you ever consider segmenting the market and introducing a new product offering. PANDORA has affordable jewellery covered, but what about creating a more premium segment? What we are doing is building the PANDORA brand and we still a lot of opportunities that are still untapped. There are geographical areas where we can still grow — such as China, Latin America, Africa and India — and on top of that, we are very strong in charms and bracelets, but it's actually the smallest part of the jewellery market. We have now moved into rings and, just last year, started scratching the surface of the earrings market. And there are also necklaces and pendants. So I still see a lot of opportunity to move forward with the PANDORA brand.
What about a men's line? Is that on the cards? Not at this time. If you look at the opportunities in the women's jewellery market, they are vast.
And what do you think is the greatest challenge to capitalising on that vast market? I think the biggest and most important thing for us is to continually develop interesting and contemporary jewellery for women around the world. That is what we have to stay focused on.
We live in a noisy digital age. How important is digital communication to a company like PANDORA? It is already very important for PANDORA and it has totally changed the media landscape. Digital is where we are moving into and will continue to focus our efforts. For example, we have an e-commerce platform in all our major markets, and we have seen a very strong growth generally; especially in the fourth quarter of the year leading up to the holidays.
Given that PANDORA is such a large global organisation, how do you strategically inspire people to a common vision? What is your advice to other company leaders? I think the first thing you have to do is acknowledge, respect and enjoy different cultures in order to create unity. There are so many cultures in the world, and of course I love the Danish culture because of my background, but I also love the Thai culture where we produce our jewellery. Generally in Asia, people have a long-term perspective in the way they look at things; as opposed to, say the Americans, who tend to be more short-term minded. But if you take the best of all the different cultures, embrace them, everybody has something to contribute to a company's common goal.
How would you describe PANDORA's common goal? In the shortest of terms, I would say: We want to be the most loved jewellery brand in the world. We are very committed to that, and there's obviously an emotional facet to that goal, which is critical to our success.
If and when you leave PANDORA, what would you like your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for? That the company I left — which won't happen for many, many, many more years — was much stronger than the one I entered into. In essence, leaving the company in good shape quantitatively and qualitatively — that we had the right organisation; that we pursued a clear and consistent strategy; and that we developed the company to its maximum potential. All companies have different potential, but I strongly believe that there is still so much potential in PANDORA, and it's my role to help set that free.