here is an article i found on the net:
AS an ancient saying goes, “You begin a journey, you would end up where you first begun. But you would see your starting point with fresh lenses.” This sums up Swissman Rolf Schnyder’s journey of discovery.
Had he not taken the plunge to explore the sprawling universe beyond Switzerland, he might not have found the calling to restore Ulysse Nardin, one of the greatest names in high end watch making, to its former glory.
Why own a manufacture focused on making mechanical watches at a time when everyone said this industry was dead?
The answer to this question comes from the time Schnyder spent his time in Asia.
“In China and India, quartz watches were not successful,” relates Schnyder.
“That is because watch repairmen would open the case backs and for them, it was like looking into the back of the radio. In these cultures, the mechanical watches had residual value.
“Any competent repairman could open up a watch and service or fix it. They could see where the energy came from, they could identify with the mechanical movement. When I saw that these cultures adamantly refused at the time to embrace quartz watches, I knew that one day mechanical watches would make a come-back.”
It is often said, but it is true, that the watch is a man’s only piece of jewellery. This personal relationship becomes even stronger when the watch is mechanical.
There is a beautiful symbiosis between a man and his mechanical watch.
He gives the watch life by winding it and the watch serves him by providing him time.
An almost fierce loyalty develops between a man and his watch.
What took him to Asia? At a time when he was 22, he answered an advertisement for junior manager by Swiss trading house Diethelm (which is also a household name in Malaysia) for a posting to Thailand.
Because of his background on Swiss watches with JLC (Jaeger-LeCoultre) where he began his career in Geneva, Schnyder was immediately put in charge of the timepieces division.
A stranger in a strange land, this wide-eyed Swiss lad took his sojourn with abandon.
While the foreign nationals gathered together to eat vague approximations of European fare in their hotels, Schnyder was at street-side restaurants learning the cultures and the language of his Thai friends.
His ability to remain objective and not cast a Eurocentric sense of judgement on native habits allowed him to understand and embrace the culture of the local Thais.
Schnyder made friends easily.
He and his sales team would embark on week-long journeys throughout Thailand, trumpeting the merits of Swiss watches.
He looked forward to such trips as each offered the opportunity to learn something new about the mysterious country he now inhabited.
With an inborn business acumen, combined with fine managerial skills and boundless energy, soon stood him in good stead.
When Diethelm diversified its activities with a travel agency, Schnyder ended up running the operation.
Eager to share his passion for the incredible sights of South East Asia, he initiated charter flights in a leased DC3 from Bangkok to Siem Reap where the ancient Buddhist city of Angkor Wat stood untouched by time.
In 1959, he and his friends took the historic trip down the River Kwai.
They made their way through the thick forest from Kanchanaburi, a small town north-west of Bangkok, to the Burmese border.
They lashed together a raft from bamboo poles with the help of a villager who had plied through the forest to reclaim rails from the death railway built by Allied prisoners of war during the World War II, a task made famous by the movie ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.
From the source of the River Kwai, they floated down the river on a handmade raft, capsizing at times on unsuspecting steep rapids. It was supposed to be a seven-day adventure trip.
No one had any idea where they were and how many more days were needed to get back to the office.
They finally got back five days late and paid the price – a cut in holidays and bonuses as it was a serious offence in a tightly run Swiss company.
His adventure was published in the Schwizer Illustrierte. It was the first of many travel reports published in Swiss and European papers and magazines.
In the next few years, Schnyder continued to explore Thailand, Laos, Bali, Cambodia and South Vietnam, where the war had just broken out.
He also developed a particular fondness for the white beaches around the fishing village of Pattaya which had not yet become part of the tourist belt.
He invested his first savings in the Nippa Lodge, Pattaya’s first hotel.
Climbing up the corporate ladder at Diethelm, Schnyder soon found himself in charge of the consumer products division.
He was tasked with the distribution of basic goods from companies such as Procter and Gamble (P&G) and Union Carbide.
His sharp business sense made him realise that it would be more profitable to switch from imports to local manufacture under licence.
This time, it was his turn to share his culture by imparting to his factory workers a Swiss sense of education, supervision and the institution of quality control.
Schnyder fondly recalls, “I was impressed with how fast the Thai workers learn new skills and how enthusiastic they were about their work. I would also see in the way they worked, that there was a high level of many skills.”
From 1966 to 1968, Schnyder switched gears.
He left Thailand for a six-month voyage through the South Sea, sailing from Fiji to Samoa and around the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora, visit South America and ended up in the head office of Philip Morris in New York where he got an assignment to develop the lucrative tobacco markets of South East Asia.
Schnyder returned to Asia with Hong Kong as his base during the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. He applied for a visa to China to record with camera in hand the historical events that took place in the Middle Kingdom.
His job with Philip Morris took him around the world and also back to Philip Morris European headquarters in Switzerland, where he met Charles and Marcel Stern, the cousins of Philippe Stern, president of Patek Philippe.
The cousins owned one of the best watch dial factories in Switzerland and they invited Schnyder for a guided tour.
As Schnyder watched dials materialise in the skilled hands of the factory workers, a blue flash of inspiration blazed through him.
He was absolutely certain that Thai workers could learn the trade of dial making given the opportunity.
The vastly lower cost of labour in the Far East meant that Schnyder could craft watch dials of similar quality at a far lower price per unit which would permit the Swiss watch industry to stay competitive against the lower priced products emerging from Japan’s Seiko.
Charles and Marcel Stern were immediately sold on the idea.
A joint partnership was forged as a result between Swiss and Asian investors to open the Cosmo dial and watchcase factory in Thailand. Schnyder immediately quit his job with Philip Morris and took charge of the new enterprise.
Business boomed from the onset with Schnyder and the Cosmo team filling big orders from many Swiss watch giants like Mido, Certina, Rado, Tissot, Camy, Fortis and many others.
Eventually even the iconic Swiss brand Omega was unable to ignore the tremendous savings offered. Success, ironically, fractured the working relationship of the investors.
Tired of the intrigues and business politics, Schnyder sold his shares in Cosmo and moved to Kuala Lumpur and made Malaysia his new home in 1973.
Flushed with cash, he decided to establish Precima, a watch components factory in Sungei Way’s Free Trade Zone in Selangor in 1973.
“I met Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz later who persuaded me to invest in Malaysia. Malaysia’s potential was so obvious I had no choice! By the time I sold Precima in 1994, I had three factories,” says Schnyder. Aided by a 10-year tax exempt grace period that allowed Schnyder to import materials tax free, business took off like a rocket.
Business was growing so fast that Schnyder had to set up offices in Switzerland.
With his boundless enthusiasm, clarity of vision and the conviction to constantly raise the bar of the industry, Schnyder has done what many did not feel possible when he first purchased Ulysse Nardin.
Not only did he rescue the manufacture and return it to its former glory, but on the strength of his innovations, he has enabled the brand to transcend its past and achieve an even higher place in the rarefied constellation of watch making’s legend.
In his 23 years at the helm of Ulysse Nardin, Schnyder’s personality and the manufacture have merged.
They have become one in spirit. In the years that he has led Ulysse Nardin, Schnyder has come full circle.
On how he presides over the Ulysse Nardin empire from Kuala Lumpur, he says, “The fact that I am seven hours ahead of Europe when I am in Asia permits me to find time for creative relaxation. When I am in Switzerland, I am caught in the machinery of day to day work from the early morning hours.
“When I am in Asia I can ponder in the pool or exercise in the mornings before I get into routine work with faxes and phones coming in from Europe in the afternoon. To work at a distance would have been unthinkable decades ago but the fax and email make it possible today and I have no disadvantage communicating with my agents worldwide from wherever I reside.”
His home is perched atop a hillock overlooking Pantai Valley in KL.
It is right here, in this airy abode in Bangsar that Schnyder conceives and designs his award-winning watches.
He shares the sprawling tropical home with his Sarawakian wife Datin Chai Oi Fah in Kuala Lumpur.
The couple married in 1992 when he was 52. It is here that he conceives and designs his award winning watches.
“Since I loved Asia so much, I decided to make KL my home, although Switzerland has an excellent way of life.
The mountains and lakes are exceptional and you don’t need to go to a hotel,” says Schnyder who skis at St Moritz every February. His holidays involve his wife and three kids.
Despite Schnyder’s jet-setting existence, his heart always leads him back home, which in his case is Kuala Lumpur.
Datuk Rolf Schnyder was in Kota Kinabalu last week to display his rare collection of timepieces at the Sutera Harbour on 15 January.
p/s here's the original link :New Sabah Times