Content - SwissPrimeBrands founder: “Time to give back”

  • May 07, 2018

SwissPrimeBrands founder: “Time to give back”

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – At the Annual General Meeting 2018, Mr. Luca Orduña was elected as new member of the Executive Committee of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan and hence became the youngest member of the current SCCIJ leadership. He came to Japan on a scholarship program of the Swiss-Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Zurich which is also supported by the SCCIJ and went on to found his own company, the watch distributor SwissPrimeBrands. The SCCIJ talked to him about his motivation to come to Japan, make his living here and support the Swiss Chamber in Japan.

New SCCIJ EC member Luca Orduña

After your graduation from the University of St. Gallen, your journey to Japan started with a scholarship of the Swiss-Japanese Chamber of Commerce (Zurich). What were the reasons you applied for the scholarship? 

Luca Orduña: Being personally most interested in the watch industry, Japan with one of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable watch collectors in the world, working in the Japanese market was one of my top priorities when I finished my studies. Additionally, during my studies I attended a cultural competency course about Japan and while talking to people who were dealing with Japan, I felt that they always had a strong intrinsic motivation and passion about Japan and the relationship between Switzerland and Japan. This particular fact made me very curious about doing business in Japan. 

So the SJCC scholarship fund came as a handy opportunity? 

Luca Orduña: The program itself was very well designed and precisely tailored to my needs. Offering young people financial and network support to go to Japan for a year and learn the language as well about the business environment was precisely what I wanted at that time. Comparing with other possibilities, I found the SJCC scholarship the most compelling and was impressed by the support and effort from both chambers in Switzerland and Japan to enable young people to have a Japan experience.


Luca Orduña, Co-Founder of SwissPrimeBrands, at a promotion event of one the Swiss watch brands he represents in Japan (click to enlarge)

Luca Orduña, Co-Founder of SwissPrimeBrands, at a promotion event of one the Swiss watch brands he represents in Japan (click to enlarge)

When you started the scholarship in Japan, where were differences between expectations and experiences? 

Luca Orduña: The predominance and influence of the Japanese language in business and daily life surprised me the most. The Japanese language is extremely situational and it is essential in doing business as one needs to know the different levels of politeness in different situations using ‘Keigo’, ‘Sonkeigo’ and ‘Kenjogo’. This has a strong influence in how business is conducted and influences the thinking and acting of Japanese in many ways. I think there is a lot of cultural beauty in the language but nonetheless, I believe there should be finally an extra effort in Japan to make sure that English can at least co-exist in the business world.

Being able to ‘think’ in different languages enhances personal competences and innovative thinking. But rather than always focusing on differences, I think it is as well essential to point out commonalities. I believe Swiss and Japanese people share common values in private life like family and business conduct. Personal trust is crucial in both countries when doing business and both countries profit from a reliable infrastructure and business laws that ensure correct enforcement.  

You decided to found your own trading company for Swiss luxury watch brands together with some friends very early in your career. What were your motifs?  

Luca Orduña: It was a unique constellation of opportunities. We saw a distinct need for a distribution company that had close links to Switzerland and represents Swiss watch brands in Asia. Thanks to my business partner we had the right resources available and what is obviously the most important, we had the right people in Japan as well as in other countries.

Through my previous work experience and my knowledge of Japanese acquired during the scholarship, I already had a good professional network in Japan, which made starting out easier. The most prominent challenge was to build a network of customers. On the other side, having brands with a strong vision and products, as well as the possibility to invest in the markets is crucial.  

Please tell us a little bit more about your company and your work. 

Luca Orduña: SwissPrimeBrands represents in Japan exclusively the three watch brands: Qlocktwo, Favre-Leuba and Romain Gauthier. Being distributor and representative means we are responsible for everything concerning the three brands from importing, selling, marketing to After Sales Service. Currently, working with department stores and specialized watch stores, we sell our watches Business to Business and our partners then resell the product to the users.  

And what could you achieve so far? 

Luca Orduña: One of the most significant achievements of my team and me here in Japan is that our brands are represented in the most reputable department stores and watch specialist stores all across Japan. We have more than 30 doors by now and keep expanding across Japan. I am excited that I can have business trips to every city in Japan and directly negotiate with our clients purely in Japanese. But we also want to establish SwissPrimeBrands as the number one distributor across Asia. Currently, we are working in the Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan markets.


Luca Orduña, Co-Founder of SwissPrimeBrands, at another promotion event in Japan (click to enlarge)

Luca Orduña, Co-Founder of SwissPrimeBrands, at another promotion event in Japan (click to enlarge)

What is special about the watch brands you are representing? 

Luca Orduña: Favre-Leuba is the second oldest Swiss watch brand with a rich history and continues being a pioneer in designing and manufacturing tool watches. It is a genuinely innovative brand with true legitimacy and my goal is to make this exceptional story and products of the brand known to the Japanese watch connoisseurs and the wider public here in Japan.

Romain Gauthier is an independent Swiss watch brand founded by Mr. Romain Gauthier himself which is famed for its extraordinary hand-finishing and rare pieces that appeal to collectors. In Japan we organize twice a year special VIP meetings were collectors can meet Romain Gauthier himself and discuss his watches.  

QLOCKTWO is an iconic clock which conveys time in written words and is for people who love good, innovative and modern design. 

You also continued to pursue your education despite being a full-time entrepreneur with an MBA program at IE Business School in Madrid. How was this possible? 

Luca Orduña: I indeed did the Global MBA, Master in Business Administration at the IE Business School in Madrid. The master program is designed for current or aspiring entrepreneurs with 30% face to face classes in Madrid and San Francisco as well as 70% online study. Online lectures take place over the weekend and during the week, there were forum discussions with the professors and classmates. This ensured that I could continue building up SwissPrimeBrands in Japan while at the same time completing my MBA.  

What motivated you to take up this double task? 

Luca Orduña: The diversity of the people doing the MBA was my main motivation. My class consisted of 60 people from 30 different countries working together around the globe on papers and presentations. I regularly attended conference calls with people from 3 different continents discussing business cases. Leading people and a group is one of the most challenging tasks and I believe that collaborating and working together with people across the world in an online environment was a valuable lesson for my future professional career. I met a lot of young professionals who believe in innovation, lifelong learning and continuous education.  

You just became the youngest member of the SCCIJ Executive Committee. Why did you join the committee? 

Luca Orduña: I was surprised and honored to learn that I am the youngest member of the SCCIJ Executive Committee. Being awarded the SJCC scholarship, I experienced first hand the support of the network and it is my goal now to give something back for all the kindness I received from the people related to the chamber. Furthermore, I feel it is my duty as a Swiss abroad to shape the community actively.  

In particular, Swiss companies in Japan will need people who can bridge the two cultures promoting Switzerland, its services and products in Japan. For me, this includes as well that both Japanese and Swiss need to have an experience abroad.

Being on the Executive Committee, I hope I can further facilitate this kind of international exchange between Switzerland and Japan. Also, with my experience of starting a company, I would like to support small and medium-sized companies. I see a lot of attractive SMU’s and start-ups in Switzerland and I hope they as well consider expanding to Japan. 

What is your opinion of the institution SCCIJ itself? How can it keep its value in a world of LinkedIn and other professional social media?  

Luca Orduña: Switzerland and Japan need to keep an active political and economic exchange and facilitate trade. This is easier if all stakeholders work towards a common goal. I think this common goal should be shaped and voiced as well by the chamber. An excellent example for me was when the members of the chamber could meet with the president of Switzerland to have a round table and voice concerns and give feedback. This permanent exchange between Switzerland and Japan, a discussion about business politics and friendship among members is definitely one way how the SCCIJ can keep its value. Another way is to continuously offer high-quality events.  

About the future: Do you think you will continue staying and working in Japan for a very long time? 

Luca Orduña: Having lived here for already an extended amount of time, my heart is half Japanese and due to the intense experience I had here with building up an own company, it is like I have my own ‘baby’ in Japan. Therefore, I intend to stay longer in Japan extending the company and as well further support the chamber and its interests. 


Interview: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ; Photos: © Luca Orduña

Our Sponsors