As Cortina Watch celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, CEO Jeremy Lim discusses the luxury watch retailer’s recipe for success and future plans

It’s been a huge year for Cortina Watch. Since the start of 2022, the local luxury watch retailer has been celebrating its 50th anniversary with a slew of events, exhibitions and a series of commemorative edition timepieces made in collaboration with eight partner brands including Cartier, Chopard and Patek Philippe. Later this month, two gala dinners will also be held to officially wrap up the brand’s Golden Jubilee.

The company was first founded in 1972 as a single store in Colombo Court along North Bridge Road by Anthony Lim, who is currently the chairman of Cortina Holdings. Today, it has more than 45 retail outlets across Asia-Pacific in markets like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Anthony’s sons Jeremy and Raymond Lim have also taken over the reins, as CEO of Cortina Watch and CEO of Cortina Holdings, respectively.

For Jeremy Lim, who was promoted to the position of CEO from COO just last year and leads the watch business, Cortina’s 50th anniversary has been especially significant not just for the celebrations and reflecting on past achievements but also in what it spells for the company’s future.

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“A lot of people say that 50 years is a milestone for a company, which is true, but I think internally this 50th anniversary should also act as a springboard for us to really plan for the future,” says Lim. As with any family-run business spanning generations, one key facet is succession planning.

He shares that such plans have already been in the motion for over a year, such as with a restructuring of roles, like him becoming Cortina Watch CEO, his sister Sharon taking on the CEO position at Franck Muller, which Cortina represents in Southeast Asia, as well as the acquisition of Sincere Fine Watches with a new CEO on board.  

Beyond the current management, Lim adds that he is grooming the third generation of the family, namely his niece and nephew, who are also working in the company. “Of course, I hope that one day our next generation can run the business, but ultimately different people have different interests, so I won’t force them,” he says. “However, I think it's important that they at least know the business because eventually, they will be shareholders even if they're not active, so I think it's good to be informed.”

Other plans for the company include expansion into new markets, as well as increasing footprint, relocating, and strengthening positions in existing markets, though there are no definite objectives just yet. “In the past few years, it's been a bit difficult to look beyond what we already have because of all the border closures,” Lim explains. “This year, my travels have only been to countries we’re already operating in that we couldn’t physically be in during the pandemic, because we need to ensure we are meeting face-to-face with our partners and showing them we are here and active—it’s important.”

He adds: “This is what we need to see to before we embark on expansion plans. Then, we will also need to physically be in these markets to see how we can embrace the culture, what kind of resources we can put in and what is necessary to open a new market.”

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This importance of being physically present and ensuring there is always the human touch has been and continues to be key to Cortina’s success. “We are in the people relations business, all the way from the top to the bottom. In the past, my dad was always in the store, which made customers feel very comfortable with him. But as we expand the business, we can no longer be around all the time,” says Lim. “So, we have to ensure that there are other things in place that ensure our customers still feel good even when we are not in the store, such as organising events and hosting them there.”

On days that Lim does not have appointments, he is usually in the stores, and he also makes it a point to always be at major business negotiations, in order to “give suppliers and partners the assurance that we are there for the business.” Even as the business adopts some forms of digitalisation, Lim is adamant not to lose that human touch.

Continuing to look ahead, Lim hopes to inculcate a sustainability mindset in day-to-day operations. He shares that he had started pushing for the company to reduce paper use over 3 years ago and it is something he is still working on. Recently, he also attended a course on sustainability.

“The course gave me a better understanding of how, as business owners, we can contribute that little bit towards sustainability,” he says. “So, it’s something I hope to do at Cortina; to look at everything with sustainability in mind and see what can be implemented.”

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