Established in 1834, WOLF is a very impressive company. With three offices around the world — LA, the UK and Hong Kong, WOLF employs more than 60 people and is becoming a dominant force in watch and jewelry boxes and watch winders. I traveled to the Brighton area of the UK to sit down with Philip and Simon Wolf, father and son, respectively.
How do you like working together?
Philip: Simon is a brilliant businessman, much better than me. We have a good relationship and he has done great things with the business. It was his idea to start with the watch winders. I thought it was a waste of time, but I was proven spectacularly wrong. Our business is fantastic now.
Simon: My father is my mentor. He is the reason that every day I try to do a better job. My father always said to me if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. That sounds glib, but I have learned that if you work long enough and hard enough you can make it successful.
I remember one time when I was in my early teens, my dad was repointing the chimney and it was pissing with rain and cold and we were up a ladder and I didn’t want to be there, and his intention to do a great job really impressed me. The things I watched him do made me the way I am. I like to do everything I do well.
It’s very difficult working with and for my father, because the bar is so high, and that’s how I set the bar now.
Do you value each other’s perspective?
Philip: I get weekly reports and Simon and I talk very often, usually about people. He is very persistent. If he has something in his head, like the watch winders, he doesn’t give up.
Simon: I still go to my father for his thoughts on people. He is detached from the daily stuff, but the overarching big questions, he often has a point of view that I hadn’t thought of. It’s extraordinary. He knows people very well. I will give him the background and he will see very clearly through the whole thing. He is very clear on giving me his opinion.
Why did you bring Simon into the business?
Philip: I thought it would be a good opportunity for him. I wanted him to join the company. We weren’t doing very well in America, so I said to him, “Why don’t you have a go at the American market?”
Simon: I arrived in Chicago in 1988 and I had no idea what to do. I think it’s better to not know than to know, because I had to just get on with it. I went to California in 1992 and set the company up there.
Philip: I always genuinely thought he would sort himself out. I never worried about Simon. I was in the same situation myself, when I came to England (I was born in Sweden), how to cope with everything. It was terrible, but I managed. I always knew I would sort myself out, and he comes from the same stock. Looking back, it seems irresponsible, to send a kid here to handle it.
Simon: Certainly trial by fire.
Philip: But it worked. I knew he could handle it. That’s how my father did it. I did not really have a backup plan if he screwed it up. I knew he would do it, and he has, very well. Because I had been through it, I knew he could do it.
Simon: Traditional schooling was never my strength, real-world experiences I believe are the best teacher, but I am not sure that I would put my children to the test at such a tender age.
How has the business changed?
Philip: It’s totally different today. I couldn’t work today, with all the high tech and electronics. I find it difficult to operate my mobile phone. The speed of business and the way things happen is totally different.
Simon: The business is so fast now. Decision making has to be so quick. You have to move quickly. Being in touch with customers and speaking to them is still the best way. Email is very useful but making a phone call is so important. The art of speaking and communicating is getting lost, but it’s still so important. If I pick up the phone or go meet a customer, I get so much more done.
What drives you to do well?
Philip: I used to think my father knew everything about everything, and I tried to be better than him. I was in many ways better than him, especially with people. I was very fortunate that I met people in the business who became friends. It’s very important to have good relationships with your customers. Back then, it was a face to face business.
Simon: When I went to work with our sales director, Tony Cook, I had no idea I would be working in the company full time. Every day, we would drive all over the southeast of England, visiting stores in person, and at night he would add up all the orders and post them off. I took the sample cases out of the back seat every day, all day long, and I saw the scuff marks on the back door from the sample bags. I realized that Tony did that every single day: he went to see customers, he was always the same guy, and those marks were testament to how many times he has done this. It was the consistency that made him successful. That was my epiphany, the business light bulb went off, and I was hooked. The beauty of what WOLF is that it is generational, it is something people need, and my goal is to build the company so that it is so strong that it doesn’t need me anymore.
What pressure do you feel working for a family company?
Simon: I can’t be the one that fails. I am fifth generation and I can’t be the one to screw it up.
Philip: I love that we go back a long time. I wish my grandmother could be here to see it. My grandfather got very ill, so my grandmother, Ida, decided to go out and see our customers. She went out with the sample cases, back in the late 1920s. The company was really struggling back then, so she went out and worked so hard, sleeping rough, often in railway stations, with the children at home. Without her, the company wouldn’t have survived. She was an amazing woman.
What do you love about your job?
Simon: The most challenging thing about my job is the people, but the best thing is the people. No one works for me, we work together. It’s the simple interactions I have with the people. That’s what keeps me going, working with great, great people.
Philip: I loved coming up with new ideas for packaging. I really enjoyed doing things that people thought were impossible. That’s one of the things I liked the most, creating new products.
Did you foresee the company growing into what it is today?
Philip: I had no idea that the company would grow into what it is today. I am very proud of where Simon has taken it. Simon has had many great ideas.
Simon: The biggest challenge is consistency. A consistent message, making sure everyone knows who we are. We have offices in Hong Kong, the UK and LA. We have 60 people in the company. We have 20 distributors, we have 20-30 sales agents, and globally we have many different ways that we get to the consumer. Being consistent so that every time someone comes in contact with the brand, they get the same, very true story. That is, as we have gotten bigger, a challenge, but we do it well.
What does the future look like for WOLF?
Simon: I would love to see WOLF become a $100 million company. I want our brand to be the only choice to take care of your watch or jewelry. I want WOLF so embedded in the mind of the consumer that if you own a fine watch, you know really need to put it in a WOLF. I want us to be de facto choice, if you want the best, you choose WOLF.
Of what are you proudest?
Philip: Simon started this business of branding our product, so I am proud of what he has done. It was the right way to go, and I am very proud to see the WOLF name on the buildings and the products.
Simon: When we opened the LA office and warehouse, that was a huge undertaking, it brought everything together in one place, and that building has our name on it. Every time I pull up to that building, there is pride there. I love this office in the UK as well. I went to America in 1988, and I knew I would come back to the UK, so opening this office here was a great accomplishment.