Shaper: Robert Tateossian

Show aired on 28th May 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Ibrahim Maalouf with Essentials, a fantastic way to kick the programme off. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I hope you know that by now and if you don’t know Jazz Shapers if the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper. I am very pleased to say and I hope I say it correctly, I am sure I won’t, that my Business Shaper today is Robert Tatteossian and he will correct me in a moment; he is of course if you don’t know, the Master Jeweller, the man who has created a beautiful world of luxury inside the specific world of jewellery and you will be hearing lots from him very shortly about how he has built his business. On top of that you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got some fabulous music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including GoGo Penguin, San Jamòn and this from the one and only Frank Sinatra.

Another fantastic track, that was Frank Sinatra with Fly Me To The Moon. Robert, and I am going to try again, you are going tell me, you are going to interject right, Robert…

Robert Tateossian
Tatteossian.

Elliot Moss
Much nicer when you say it, Tatteossian, is my Business Shaper today. The founder of the jewellery business which you can find all over the world now, I think it is in sixty countries or so but started here in little old England way back in 1990 I believe, I hope.

Robert Tateossian
That’s correct yes.

Elliot Moss
Good. Robert, thank you so much for joining me. Why did you leave the heady world and you were in the heady world of banking, you have a proper set of qualifications behind you; all sorts of things I am sure were mapped out for you by you or your family. What made you go and start your own business?

Robert Tateossian
Well it all started, I had to look at my age, I was in my mid-twenties. I had done banking for about seven years and I really need a change. I wanted to be my own boss, bit of an entrepreneur. I wanted to be in the world of fashion and I wanted to travel the world. Luckily at the time I had also identified a niche in the market which was in men’s cufflinks and I thought ‘why not give it a shot’. Any business needs about three years to get kick-started. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t I can still go back to investment banking and still be under thirty so not past my expiration date.

Elliot Moss
And you sort of make it sound quite simple. You know, I just had a little bit of an entrepreneurial itch and then I went and set up a business. Now you and I both know it’s not quite as simple as that. The first question I have is, where’s that entrepreneurial itch come? Is it a familial thing? Is it a you thing? A bit of both?

Robert Tateossian
I think it’s probably more of a me thing and actually it was quite simple because I really didn’t have a business plan. All I knew was that I had a little bit of savings put aside. I didn’t have a family to worry about and I had a roof over my head so it was an easy decision to make but it was a little bit like that, it wasn’t really a strategic plan with a… drawn out with a bunch of investors behind me. It was just something ‘let’s do this’ and give it a shot.

Elliot Moss
Do you think therefore that the strategic plan thing is a little overrated? A little over-hyped?

Robert Tateossian
Well I think you do need to have a strategic plan depending what age you are at and what your financial commitments are and if you have a family or not. So yes I think a strategic plan is important but also you can start a business on a whim if you are careful as well.

Elliot Moss
So the whim that you set this up on, the fact that you love, as you said, you wanted to be in the fashion world and you saw this niche. The cufflinks were the niche but there’s… what was your vision at that point way back before you created your very first product? What did you want it to be?

Robert Tateossian
If we look back twenty six years ago which is when I launched Tatteossian the market was very different, especially for the field of cufflinks. If you walked into a store you would never have a collection of cufflinks and cufflinks were something more that was an heirloom, that was passed from father to son. More than really a fashion item. Traditionally cufflinks were the oval, double ended, 18 carat gold or silver cufflinks connected by a chain with your monograms engraved on it. In fact that was the first pair of cufflinks I ever owned, it was gifted to me by a friend for one of my birthdays. And what I wanted to do is to turn the cufflink into something a lot more fashion – just like you would go into a store at the beginning of every season to buy a new shirt, buy a new tie – with that you should be able to buy a new pair of cufflinks because at the end of the day, cufflinks were the only, are the only type of men’s piece of jewellery that you can wear aside from your wedding ring and your watch. So try to take something very traditional and make it into something a little bit more fashion.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out more about the traditional has become just a little bit fashion with my Business Shaper today, Robert Tatteossian. Time for some music, this is San Jamòn with Rose Rouge.

San Jamòn with Rose Rouge, one of my all-time favourites. Sometimes you forget the name of the track but you know who did it. Well now you remember again hopefully. Robert Tatteossian is my Business Shaper today and we have been talking, I am going to get the name really better each time isn’t it Robert?

Robert Tateossian
Absolutely. It’s a question of practice.

Elliot Moss
Just a question of practice. Good. We have been talking about jewellery and about setting up your own business and about simplicity and lack of strategic planning although you wouldn’t advocate that that’s a good idea I hear you say with your… it’s like a good lawyers Ts&Cs at the bottom there. So you set this business up. You say I can move some, I can create a fashion piece out of something traditional. Those first few weeks, those first few months, those first few years you are obviously a shrewd person who can look, objectively look at numbers and see if that was working, you were in the City. Did you think objectively it would be a success at that point or were you just like well I’ve got, as you said, a four year window and if it isn’t it isn’t or was there more belief in yourself even in those early days?

Robert Tateossian
When you start out you never really know if something is going to be a success or not. I mean of course you have the determination to make it a success and you have to always have a very positive attitude and that it will, that your idea will be a successful one but it is all touch and go. Especially in the field of retail where buyers are notoriously unreliable and you can get an order which then a buyer could turn around and cancel or even worse, you can have a buyer who gives you an order, you deliver the merchandise and they don’t pay you. So it is a little bit, can be scary, and it was very scary and thank God I was surrounded by supportive friends. I even had friends from the banking community who used to take my tray of cufflinks to their colleagues at work and whether it was Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and try to sell a few pairs of cufflinks to help me out and you know, I am laughing at it now but those, selling those four, five pairs of cufflinks and cashing a couple of hundred pounds made all the difference because that used to help me to pay for the office and the expenses and going to trade shows and investing more money to develop more collections. So it is just a question of managing the growth in a very systemic way and being very prudent and thinking rationally with a little bit of emotion. You can’t just think from a purely business point of view because then you kind of squash the creativity and you always need to take a little bit of risks to succeed. You can’t just go on the cautious side.

Elliot Moss
And right from the beginning you’ve been the creative force of your own business. I mean it has been your ideas and your interpretations that you then produced. Is that right?

Robert Tateossian
Absolutely. And in that sense I am a little bit of a control freak and to this day I still control every aspect of the creative, of the creative values of the company whether it comes to the Lookbook or shops. The collections, I do have a creative director and often there is a lot of conflict between us because it is a question of my view versus his views but I still control the creative aspect of the company.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper, Robert Tatteossian; he is the founder and eponymous hero in the business of jewellery and making traditional things rather untraditional and if you haven’t ever seen his beautiful work then you just need to go on to their website and we will give you that later as well. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Every Saturday morning I have the privilege of talking to someone who has built an empire or is building an empire and it is pretty impressive too. If you have missed any of the programmes iTunes is your destination, just put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’; if you are travelling on British Airways in the near future then you can look us up over there as well and CityAM is yet another place where you can catch some of my phenomenal guests from the past. The present brings me to my guest today, Robert Tatteossian and he is the founder and CEO of Tatteossian. It was lucky you call it the same thing really. Those early years, we talked about the fact that you are a control freak and that is not the first time I have heard that here. I think that is the mark of someone who really does care and wants it to be the way it needs to be. When, beyond the hundred pounds and the two hundred pounds early on and your friends helping, when did it become a substantive business? When did you go ‘okay I am over these first few years’ – if it was years indeed – ‘I’ve got something here that I need to build on’ as you said, become more systemic. At what point do you recall that happening?

Robert Tateossian
The business grew year on year and it was really when I started going to Japan early on and the Japanese were placing significantly solid orders that I gained the confidence that this business had foundations on which it was going to grow because you do need in a way patrons to grow your business. You cannot be relying on friends to do you a favour to buy bits and pieces as you started out by saying and the Japanese were now, you know, you are looking at the early 90s, the Japanese love products that come from the UK. There is a lot of affinity between the two countries and the Japanese are very loyal when it comes to them being clients. They also are very straight forward, they are honest, they pay upfront and they are great consumers. So it was when the Japanese came on board and there was a number of chains in Japan that were buying the collection that the business really started to run and actually a lot of these were small boutiques so the owner would come and tell me, ‘Robert you are giving me a line of men’s jewellery, we love your stuff, we love your brand. Can you please start doing some women’s stuff for us’. So from cufflinks we started doing bracelets. We started doing necklaces and the collection just grew bit by bit and then we started going women’s.

Elliot Moss
Has the buzz been seeing people wear what you’ve created or the growth of the business and the money and I don’t mean the money in your pocket, I mean the fact that you have seventy two or seventy people or so, you have stocked in Harvey Nicks, in Harrods and all that. What is it that makes you smile inside and outside?

Robert Tateossian
The money is not really there to give a huge buzz, the money comes in to pay the bills. So I think the great satis… most of the satisfaction comes from actually seeing, of course seeing people wearing my stuff and of course having a company of seventy two people with the presence in seventy one countries around the world. That really is very very satisfying to be able to walk into a store in Kuwait, see our collection; walk into a store in Moscow and see a collection and actually listen to the comments that people have and the satisfaction that people have when they wear our jewellery and that gives me a huge buzz.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Robert Tatteossian, my Business Shaper today. Time for some music, this is from Bobby Bland or otherwise known as the Bobby “Blue” Bland and it’s called Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.

There he was, Bobby “Blue” Bland with Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City. Robert, we were talking about this business that’s grown and the satisfaction and you said very early on, you know one of the things I wanted to do in life was travel and anyone listening will hear that you have an accent which means you are from somewhere but where is your heart geographically as it were? What do you feel in terms of your nationality? If nationality is important to you? Where’s home?

Robert Tateossian
Ah probably the air, somewhere over terminal 5. No I travel once a week and I grew up all over the world so really where I feel comfortable, of course London has been my home for you know, the past thirty years so London is home and a place that I love but also I do have other homes and other places that I love visiting – New York is one, Cape Town is another, Milan is another, Beirut is another. These are all places where, that I visit frequently and that I love going back to to visit.

Elliot Moss
Part of that belief that you want to be in lots of places I imagine also fuels your creativity because you must be influenced by different things and different countries. Does it hit you quickly what that influence is going to be? You are in a market in Cape Town or somewhere or you are going through these beautiful streets of high end fashion in Milan. Are you… what do you do to capture it? Do you write a note? Do you take a photo? What happens?

Robert Tateossian
You are absolutely right. Travelling and seeing things around the world is one of the ways that I am influenced when it comes to design. No I don’t take notes, it’s something that probably… there’s a mark that happens in the subconscious and when we do need to sit down and come up with a collection these ideas come streaming out so hopefully what I see are things that I will not forget about and it is usually architecture, it’s pieces of furniture, seeing how people dress in the street. So it is just being constantly bombarded by all these things that obviously shapes the collections and gives us ideas to develop collections.

Elliot Moss
We will be having our final chat with Robert plus be playing a track from Manchester’s GoGo Penguin; that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

The superb GoGo Penguin with Unspeakable World and they are on at the Love Supreme Jazz Festival 1st to the 3rd July this year, it’s going to be brilliant. Robert Tatteossian is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. You’ve kind of ticked the boxes that you set out at the beginning when we started talking around your own business, around fashion and around travel. It strikes me also that the freshness that you keep bringing to your collection is actually predicated on that travel and on that openness. I know that you recently were involved in an initiative with Blocks Wearables I believe which is moving into the wearable world of jewellery and so on. Where’s next for you? You know, you are in as you said, seventy one countries. You’re recognised, your work is recognised around the world. It is lorded. Why don’t you just stop? I mean this is good isn’t it Robert?

Robert Tateossian
No you never stop doing when you do something you enjoy doing. I still love waking up in the morning, coming up with new creations, meeting new customers, innovating, coming up with things that are unique. You are talking about the wearable technology, that’s something that we are looking into but we are also always looking for very unusual materials and the moon is next so our next collection is going to be pieces of jewellery that include pieces from the moon so that’s next.

Elliot Moss
And obviously I am stupid. How are you going to get pieces from the moon Robert?

Robert Tateossian
I am going to go up to the moon and chisel a few pieces off.

Elliot Moss
Is this next week? When are you planning on going? Is there room?

Robert Tateossian
I already have them, I already have the pieces in the workshop. No they are moon meteorites or Luna falls and we are turning that into pieces of jewellery, cufflinks, necklaces for women, of course very limited editions because it is quite difficult to get the material and we are launching that in… next month.

Elliot Moss
I suppose, I mean, I think you would call yourself a creative person and you are a creative business person in that order I am imagining. Does that mean actually the joking aside bit, that you could carry on for as long as you want to because retirement doesn’t need to happen because ideas happen in your head?

Robert Tateossian
Absolutely. In fact, yeah I have no retirement date in mind unlike my banking friends who are desperately looking at the date that they can leave the city. I love what I do and I will keep on doing it for as long as, as long as it takes.

Elliot Moss
Do you think your life would have been very different if you had stayed in the City, just in terms of the richness of how you spend your time, forget the money side, I mean just…

Robert Tateossian
No but that’s probably, don’t forget the money side, probably my bank account would have been a lot fuller and a lot more inflated but it boils down to satisfaction so you know, of course I am so much happier doing what I am doing right now and I love what I am doing right now.

Elliot Moss
Well you look very happy and I am very jealous of your shoes by the way which I think I will take a photo of.

Robert Tateossian
I would not be able to wear these floral shoes in the City.

Elliot Moss
In the banking world.

Robert Tateossian
No.

Elliot Moss
No you certainly wouldn’t. I promise you I will take a photo and I will Tweet them because they are excellent as long as you don’t mind. Listen it’s been really fun having you as a guest on the programme – thank you. Just before I let you go. What’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Robert Tateossian
Who doesn’t love Ella Fitzgerald and Every Time We Say Goodbye so goodbye to you, it’s my choice today.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic and here it is.

That was one of the many Ella Fitzgerald classics, Every Time We Say Goodbye, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Robert Tatteossian. So calm, wasn’t he just unbelievably relaxed and yet totally on his game. He knew from a very early stage in his life that he was going to do his own thing, he wanted it to involve fashion and he wanted it to involve travel and that’s exactly what he did and above all, he said that’s what made him happy and made him satisfied and I think that is a fantastic lesson for anyone thinking about setting up their own business. Phenomenal stuff. Do join me again same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. But in the meantime though stay with us right now because coming up next, its Nigel Williams.

Robert Tateossian made the transition from City financier to the “King of Cufflinks” and jewellery trendsetter; his international upbringing and love of travelling the world providing design inspiration that influenced his change of path. Born in Kuwait and educated at French schools in Rome, Tateossian, who is fluent in seven languages, studied international finance at the prestigious Wharton School of Finance in Pennsylvania, before embarking on a successful career with Merrill Lynch on Wall Street and in the City of London.

After seven years of investment banking, Tateossian was ready to fulfil his ambition to start his own business. His creative flair, love of luxury and keen eye for detail, led him to jewellery and accessory design, setting up offices in London and initially a workshop in Birmingham – in the heart of England’s silversmith industry. In 1990, Tateossian Ltd was created.

Inspired by everything from travel and religion to art and fashion, the seasonal collections for men and women provide a distinctive and unique product. With no limitations on materials, silver and gold are combined with precious jewels such as diamonds, sapphires and rubies, as well as carbon fibre and crystals. While still creating the ultimate range of handcrafted, contemporary and unique cufflinks for discerning businessmen, the brand is now much more than a purveyor of stylish shirt sleeve fasteners for bankers and brokers.

Robert Tateossian lives in – and runs the business from – London; but he still spends 70% of his time travelling around the world sourcing suppliers, meeting clients and gaining inspiration for his latest collections.

Follow Marcus on Twitter @rtateossian1.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“I think a strategic plan is important but also you can start a business on a whim if you are careful.”

“You always have to have a very positive attitude that your idea will be a successful one, but it is all touch and go…”

“…it is just a question of managing the growth in a very systemic way and being very prudent and thinking rationally, with a little bit of emotion”

“I am a little bit of a control freak and to this day I still control every aspect of the creative values of the company”

“I would not be able to wear these floral shoes in the City.”

“The money is not really there to give a huge buzz, the money comes in to pay the bills.”

“We are always looking for very unusual materials and the moon is next…our next collection is going to be pieces of jewellery that include pieces from the moon.”

“…most of the satisfaction comes from actually seeing people wearing my stuff and of course having a company of seventy two people…”

“I have no retirement date in mind – unlike my banking friends who are desperately looking at the date that they can leave the City.”