MARC ROM’S first day at his father’s business left no-one in doubt about where the son ranked in the hierarchy: right at the bottom, cleaning out the bins. “Marc has worked his way up,” says Steven Rom, who founded Avstev Group in Sydney in 1999 as the regional distributor for Swiss watchmaker Raymond Weil. “I never gave him any titles.”
Marc was just 21 and had no outside experience, “whereas I’d been in business for 20-plus years in South Africa”, says Steven. He was prepared to give his son a start but not a free ride.
As the company grew – it’s now Australasia’s largest privately owned distributor of Swiss watches – Marc inched his way up, learning the workings of every department. “I was in the stockroom, I was in accounts, I was in marketing. Today, when someone’s away, I can fill in for pretty much any role,” he says. “I was promoted slowly. Now I know the business inside out so I’m very thankful [for that].”
It took him almost 20 years to get there but in mid-2016, Marc was made managing director of Avstev Group, now the region’s official distributor for eight premium Swiss brands, including Girard-Perregaux, Ball and Frédérique Constant. The move came when Steven chose to take a step back. “I decided to appoint Marc to that position – which was well deserved – and the day-to-day operation is now under his control,” says Steven. “I still contribute by being out there networking and by handling negotiations with the brands in Switzerland, which I enjoy.” While Steven says he remains “very involved” in sales, finance and marketing, “succession has been put in place”.
Even staff not related by blood stay with the Avstev Group for a long time. “Everybody can support everybody and fill in,” says Steven. “One of my top staff has just been on maternity leave and the business carried on.”
They’ve had offers to buy the Avstev Group but Steven says no: “The business is not for sale as long as I’m alive. Marc can do what he likes when I’m gone.”
Father and son say any workplace tension is dissolved by their mutual respect. “There’s no ego involved... it’s whatever’s best for the business,” says Marc. Plus, they complement each other. “My father’s like the face of the watch and I’m the movement behind it.” And it’s running like clockwork.
BOTTOM LINE: Don’t let your business fracture your family – and vice versa.
MARC: “We respect each other for our differences. My dad’s got his positives and I’ve got mine and we come together and make it work.”
STEVEN: “We might have our words but common sense prevails at the end of the day.”