When she was recruited to lead Bulova Canada, Sian Williams had already made a name for herself in the male-dominated watch industry, overhauling two major brands with great success. She’s spent the last four years rejuvenating the 142-year-old company, guiding it back to the leadership in innovation that originally defined the brand.
By Hailey Eisen
The watch industry is by and large a man’s world. But at the helm of Bulova Canada is Sian Williams, a powerful woman who has succeeded in breathing new life into a 142-year-old company. Known and respected across the industry for her ability to effect change and bring about significant growth, Sian is more than willing to talk about the challenges she’s faced as a woman and the inner strength she’s summoned as a result.
Having spent the first 20 years of her career in the cosmetics industry, Sian was used to seeing successful women in high places. But when she left that world for the watch industry in 2007 — she worked for two other big players before joining Bulova as President — she says she felt as if she had traveled back in time. “I was lucky that I was older and more confident when I joined this industry because when faced with the chauvinistic attitude, I was able to take it head on.”
From having her authority questioned publicly to being openly bullied by a male boss, Sian has faced her share of challenges — but says she’s come out the other side a better, more self-assured leader. A big proponent of the “Lean In” movement, Sian encourages all women to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book and to get comfortable negotiating and standing up for what they’re worth. “I always go back to this one particular quote from Nelson Mandela: ‘I never lose. I either win or I learn,’” she says.
Sian certainly has a track record of winning. After respectively doubling and tripling business at the two previous watch companies she worked for, she was recruited to lead Bulova Canada in 2013. She was excited to join a company with a history of innovation. “There have been a lot of transformational, cutting-edge firsts in this company that are really impressive,” she says. From introducing the first women’s timepiece in 1917, to changing the face of marketing with the very first radio and TV commercials, to last year’s launch of the CURV watch – the world’s first chronograph movement.
Despite this innovation, Sian says she had her work cut out for her when it came to increasing technological adoption in the sales and operations side of the business. “Things had always been done a certain way and there was a lack of comfort using technology within the Canadian team,” she recalls.
Under Sian’s leadership, the team has undergone a positive transformation. Beyond embracing technology and realizing improved efficiencies as a result, there’s also been a significant cultural shift toward collaboration. She also encourages her staff to question the way things are being done, to voice concerns, and to push for change when they believe in it. “The goal is to have everyone feel just as happy coming to work Monday morning as they are leaving Friday night,” Sian says. “When people are more engaged, they’re more productive, and they’re proud of the work they’re doing.”
Though there’s never a dull moment in her professional life, Sian is a big proponent of work-life balance. Her sons are now 14 and 19, but there were many years where she’d rush home to be there for their sports and extracurricular activities, and then get back to work at night once they were asleep.
Now that they’re older, she has found time for volunteer work; something she struggled to fit in when they were small. Recently, she and her son traveled with the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation on a school building trip, which she says was a highly meaningful experience. She’s also a fundraiser for the Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation, sits on the fundraising executive committee of the Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation, and has been a keynote speaker at a number of universities’ women in business events.
Now more than ever, she’s seeing her personal commitment to women’s advancement reflected in Bulova’s own journey. Sian recognizes the appointment of Jeffrey Cohen as President of the Bulova Corporation in the US in 2016 as a sign of positive change. “When Jeffrey started in 2016 I was the only woman at the table. Now there are four of us on the executive committee,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have leadership with great vision who wants to ensure we stay relevant and competitive.”
After four years with Bulova, it’s apparent Sian shares those same leadership skills and a strong vision for success. “I have a very strong team in place right now and they’re firing on all cylinders. I’m very proud of them.”
Founded by Joseph Bulova in 1875, Bulova remains an iconic brand at the forefront of today’s timepiece industry – forever pursuing a profound history of firsts. Headquartered in New York City, with eight international offices and distribution in 65 markets, Bulova’s distinguished portfolio includes Bulova, Caravelle, Wittnauer watches, as well as licensed Harley-Davidson Timepieces by Bulova watches, Frank Lloyd Wright Collection watches and clocks, and Bulova Clocks. Today, Bulova is driven by the same principles of craftsmanship, innovation and technology that inspired their founder more than 140 years ago. Committed to advancing the art of watchmaking with extraordinary design, exclusive high-performance technology and enduring quality that upholds a tradition of excellence and meets the needs of today’s global consumer. For more information, visit www.bulova.com
Bulova is a proud sponsor of the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.