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STRAIGHT FROM THE TOP with: Chris Ranchoux, Fiskars

Updated: Jun 21, 2019

Fiskars’ Japan Head talks about family legends, dreams, writing books, and seizing the moment.

Chris Ranchoux was born in France, and moved to Japan in his twenties to pursue academic studies at the University of Tokyo. He has over twenty years’ executive leadership experience in the luxury industry, from which he retired briefly to pursue his passion for writing. A selection of his books – a science-fiction series called Origami - was recently published in English. Chris is currently President and Representative Director at Fiskars Japan – owner of Wedgwood, Royal Copenhagen, Iittala, Waterford and other premium brands.

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?

I am an eternal undergraduate student, trying (more or less) desperately to graduate and always failing to finalise my thesis.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your life right now?

It started a few years back when I decided to write a book. I had semi-retired, and wrote four books in two-and-a-half years. I wrote them in French, and then for my 50th birthday my wife offered to have two of them (a series) translated into English. The translation process took a while, but the English version of the second book was finally published in August of this year, 8 months after the first. Although these books are very humble works of mine, I am really enjoying seeing my writings being sold on Amazon, and from time-to-time receiving reader reviews and encouraging comments online. This gives a very colourful tone to life in my fifties, and feeds my appetite to write more.

Which figures (historic or present, public or private) have played the most influence in your life so far?

I grew up on tales from forgotten times in my family, which were told to me by my parents. The stories were about one of our ancestors called Auguste, who lived in the village of Ranchoux around the 13th century. Auguste was said to have been a blacksmith, and led a life full of adventures that saw him elevated to the rank of knight – whereupon he became “Auguste of Ranchoux” – the first in our family to bear the Ranchoux name. Anyhow, Auguste became the greatest hero to me when I was growing up (whether he in fact existed or not), and the tales of his bravery and valour without doubt influenced the person I became. Funnily enough, Auguste is the main character of a saga I have started writing, the first volume of which was published in France a few years ago.

What's been the biggest failure or mistake you've experienced in life or work so far? What did you learn?

I have known quite a few failures, and some of them have been quite memorable. All of them taught me important lessons and brought me wisdom I could not have otherwise learned. One of the biggest, certainly, was not telling my father I loved him during our last phone conversation the day before he went into surgery, almost 20 years ago. Following various complications, he ended up in a coma and passed away shortly thereafter. I missed the only chance I’d had to tell him, properly, what was in my heart. This experience taught me the importance of every instant we share with those we care about. Whatever reason may be keeping us from telling people what we really want to say to them – be it pride shame, or something else – we should never lose the opportunity to share our feelings openly with the ones we love. Work failures, you can fix. But failures like this one – I failed, and I can’t go back in time.

Looking back, what key pieces of advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

There are definitely a few key decisions I made around that age, which I’d be tempted to advise my younger self to seriously reconsider. But then – with the belief that everything happens for a reason, and that the very worst can actually engender the very best – and looking at myself today, I would simply tell the 21-year-old me not to become arrogant, and to just follow his nose. I have learned to live without regret despite all my miserable failures. So I’d hope I could do it again if I was given the choice.

What key values do you live by?

The “Mother Value” of my life is sealed in my family crest. It says “Invictum Justus”, which means (in bad dark-age Latin), “A just man is an invincible man”. This was attributed to Auguste Ranchoux, whom I mentioned earlier. I believe in fairness at all levels – but at the same time, I feel that life is essentially unfair. Because of this absolutely irrefutable fatality I feel compelled to use my position, my abilities, and the resources at my disposal to bring more fairness to others who may not be so fortunate. I would therefore tend to say, “Life is unfair – which is why we should act with fairness wherever we can”.

Additionally, I also believe in courage and honesty, even if these values sound a bit romantic or old-fashioned for this day and age. Incidentally, the Fiskars Group has 4 key values that resonate deeply with me. They are: Innovation, Integrity, Accountability, and Teamwork. Could anyone expect more from a company?

What keeps you up at night?

The job (sometimes), the people I work with (a bit more often, as stress tends to be created by people rather than the job itself), and the increasingly dangerous pathway our world is veering towards (definitely more often, as the Doomsday clock is ticking). And overall, the complete and incompressible lack of time to do all the things I want to in life.

What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?

Knowing that the dawn will come again, even after the darkest night. I have been through enough experiences in my life to know that even the worst day lasts only 24 hours. Someone I highly respected in the military used to say: “Every problem has at least one solution. Don’t focus on the problem, just focus on the solutions.” It’s not always easy to do, but keeping this in mind always helps you to take a step back from a tough situation and look at it from afar.

What are you morning rituals for getting a great day going?

I wake up every day around 5AM without an alarm clock. A great day starts early for me because I know I have more time to do as many things as I can. It will also start with a long hug with my wife, as well as a kiss good-bye before I leave for the office. Some light physical exercise, a healthy breakfast, and making some spicy comments on the TV news are of less importance, but still have their place in my daily routine. And one of my most important rituals is to drink a cup of hot coffee from one of my favourite Royal Copenhagen mugs.

Where do you have your most "A-ha" moments?

There is no specific rule or predisposition for the lightbulb to appear above my head. It can happen during a meeting in the office, over lunch with friends, or during a long conversation with my wife over dinner. Less, maybe, when I’m doing sports because I try to think less in those moments – but definitely in a random manner otherwise. Interestingly, when I’m writing books, perhaps because I’m usually doing a lot of research and ingesting a lot of information, ideas sometimes come to me in my dreams. And if I am lucky enough to remember those dreams when I wake up, I immediately make some notes. But very honestly, I cannot really brag about having genius ideas that often (unfortunately).

How do you energise outside of your work?

I love sports (going to the gym, trekking, skiing, scuba diving, horse-back riding), travel (to sunny destinations), movies (adventures, fantasy, sci-fi), writing books, sketching cartoons, building dioramas, and spending time with my wife.

What is your biggest vice?

I hate gambling, I don’t smoke, and I drink with extreme moderation. But good food (and I am French, so I mean GOOD, rich food!) might be my biggest vice. So, I just need to be careful and exercise more.

What are the best reads you’ve had lately?

“The 5 Choices”, by Coley Cogan. I read the Japanese version (5つの選択) about good ways to get organised and become more efficient at work/in private - and I designed a seminar based on this book for my organisation.

“Seppuku”, by Richard Collasse. A historical fiction novel set between WWII to the present day, which really gets to your guts!

“The Operator”, by Robert O’Neil. Re-tracing the career of one of the most famous US Navy Seals of all time, who is said to have shot Osama Bin Laden.

Top movie of all time?

“Blade Runner” (original movie of 1982, extended edition).

Favourite cartoon character growing up?

Captain Marvel (the original character). My father was a big fan of Marvel comics, so I was raised with stories of super-heroes fighting super-villains, and protecting the human race…

What’s on heavy rotation at home right now?

I enjoy listening to all sorts of music, from Opera (Verdi, Wagner), to classic hard rock (ACDC, Scorpions, Aerosmith, Nickelback), Jazz (Bill Evans, Chet Baker), to modern country (Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, Rascals Flatts), and Japanese variety songs of the 80’s (Anzenchitai, Of Course, Yamashita Tatsuro). Recently, my wife and I were enjoying re-watching the animation series “Maison Ikkoku” (by Takahashi Rumi), and the house was filled with many Japanese songs of the 80’s, bringing back sweet memories of teenage years. The next wave of music fever is waiting just around the corner…!

Favourite travel destination?

Scottsdale and Sedona, in Arizona, USA. We can’t get enough of those two places. Arizona is not as “fancy” as California or New York State, but it is also not as “lost” as some other states seem to be getting. It is an exotic destination (arid desert) full of natural beauty on an incredible scale (the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Petrified Forest National Park) and blends the traditional American way of life with Mexican influences. Arizona has a very rough desert where temperatures in summer can be higher than anywhere in the world. But it is also a place of peace and harmony where we love to trek (around Cathedral Rock in Sedona) and practice western horse-back riding in the company of real cowboys from a Ranch we like to visit. It is like travelling back in time to one of the many John Wayne movies I love, and is about losing ourselves in the amazing scenery, and getting closer to the pleasures of a simple life.

Top bucket list travel destinations?

On top of the places we love in Arizona, a few other destinations we like include: the winery island of Waiheke and the movie set of “Hobbiton” in New Zealand, Monument Valley in Utah, the Island of Maui in Hawaii, and the village of Les Baux de Provence in Southern France…

What will you do in post-retirement?

My plan is to complete a series of books based on the tales of my ancestor Auguste. I also plan to start a new series that will be a sequel to the one I recently had translated into English. In brief, writing more books.

I also plan to learn shakuhachi (Japanese traditional flute), practice some Behourd (medieval combat sports wearing a full suit of armour and fighting with weapons of that time), and travel to some more incredible destinations around the world.

And to close with, your favourite quote?

Someone whom I respect a lot once said: “Remember that faith is not the absence of doubt, but the capacity to overcome anything that may beset you. That dynamism is not the absence of dejection, but the ability to mobilise your energy even when you are exhausted. That courage is not ignorance of fear, but the desire to overcome fear when it grips you. And that success is not the absence of failure but to know how to meet failure in order to beat it.” Just a few days after I heard these words, the first Gulf War started for the French Troops. It is the best pep talk I have ever heard in my life, and I used it as homage in one of my books.


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