Why listening to your heart can make all the difference in the world
Olivia Crouan is the Chief Brand Officer at Audemars Piguet, the oldest fine watchmaking manufacturer still in the hands of its founding families. Her impressive career saw her bring some of the world’s most beloved and iconic spirits brands to life globally before she decided to dive head (and heart) first into the world of luxury watchmaking. This piqued our interest at The CMO Club, making us curious to learn more about the person behind the marketer. Here, she tells us a little about what really makes her tick.
Making a big shift: From Paris to the countryside
I was born and raised in Paris and, until joining the team at Audemars Piguet, I grew my professional career in Paris as well. So, you might wonder what motivated me to uproot my life in the city and make a big move to the mountains.
First, I had a chance to meet the Audemars Piguet family, including the company’s CEO, well before joining the team. The interaction I had with them made me excited about the opportunity to be a part of something truly unique.
It was clear from the start that we shared a common set of values and philosophies—around work, life, and, in the context of my role as a marketer, how to build and nurture a brand. They felt like my own family. I honestly didn’t realize, until meeting the team, that this kind of synergy and synchronicity was so important to me at this stage in my career.
But there’s another dimension to this decision that has nothing to do with the work itself. At least, not directly. When I went to visit Audemars Piguet in Le Brassus for the first time—which, as a point of reference, is about a 50-minute trip outside of Geneva—something clicked within me. Being in nature, surrounded by the mountains, had a near-instant impact on both my heart and my mind. I remember telling myself, “This is what I’ve been missing.”
In the past, I might have let my mind lead me in the ‘right’ direction. That’s the rational thing to do, right? But this was a bit different. I knew I needed to trust my heart—and I knew it wasn’t just right for me, both personally and professionally, but for my kids as well. Here you’ve got the lake, the mountains, skiing, and hiking. Everything revolves around nature. And it’s not until you leave the city that you realize how important nature really is.
“Being in nature had a near-instant impact on both my heart and my mind. I remember telling myself, ‘This is what I’ve been missing.’”
Once a city girl, not always a city girl
Of course, there’s a part of me that will always love Paris. I am a Parisian, after all. Fortunately, I get to return from time to time to reconnect with the things I love most about the city.
One of the things I love most about Paris is just how easy it is to access all kinds of cultural activities. I love art. I love contemporary ballet. Both were a big part of my day-to-day life while living there; I honestly didn’t realize just how much a part of my life they were until I left.
But moving to the mountains has a big perk: My boys and I now live in a real house (read: not a city flat) surrounded by nature. They love it here and have told me they don’t want to go back. And it’s their love of where we are today that reaffirms this being the right move for us.
Though, I couldn’t have said the same thing 10 years ago. Moving away from the city wouldn’t have made sense. But living in Switzerland now aligns with who I am as a person and how I want to raise my family. There’s a real sense of pragmatism here, what the French call bon sens. You immediately get the feeling of a collective sense of responsibility among the people for the future of their country. It’s beautiful how they see themselves as citizens—and it speaks to me. It has motivated me to figure out how I can play a role in making a better future for my family, for the people around me, and for the world as a whole, too.
“I’m a mother first—everything else comes second.”
When your kids start paying it forward…
I’m a mother first—everything else comes second. My two sons, now 12 and 15, are growing into their own. But even as they get older, there are a few things that haven’t changed. Even on the busiest of days, we always make a point to say good night to each other before bed and talk about what happened on our respective days.
When they were younger, I’d simply ask them, “How was your day?” and give them the space to share whatever was on their mind. But recently, I’ve changed things up, asking them instead, “What was amazing in your day?” The goal here is to have them focus on the positive and approach each day as a new opportunity to do something amazing. Even if it’s small.
Now, here’s where it gets really cute. They’ve picked up that habit from me and now, when saying good night, they ask me in return, “What was amazing about your day, mum?” And the first time they threw that question back at me, I realized something had shifted: My sons are becoming really mindful about taking care of their mum. It’s so touching because I see how the lessons I’ve taught them—and what I’ve done to lead by example—are coming full circle.
One family tradition we’ve never missed is…
…our annual Easter egg hunt.
Every year, as far back as I can remember, we’ve gone to our family house in the South of France (Gordes) to celebrate Easter. We’ll plant the eggs in the garden when the kids aren’t looking and then give them a head start before the adults join in for some “friendly competition.”
Some traditions come and go, but this one is definitely here to stay.
“You have a choice to either listen to your head or listen to your heart. If you don’t listen to both, you’ll miss out on opportunities to grow.”
You have to listen to your head and your heart
As you’ve probably gathered, family is incredibly important to me. And that’s precisely what attracted me to join the Audemars Piguet team: They are a family building a legacy.
Aside from that, I’m passionate about building brands and developing people. What you might be surprised to hear, however, is that although I worked in wine for a large part of my career, I wasn’t actually passionate about wine when I accepted my first role at Moët-Hennessey. But after spending 18 years with the company, I was fortunate to meet some incredible people, build truly unique brand experiences, and embrace every opportunity to learn new things.
Truth be told, when I first made the jump to watches, I couldn’t say that I was passionate about them either. However, the people surrounding the business—its true heart and soul—are what made me excited about this opportunity to do something completely new.
At different points in your life, you have a choice to either listen to your head or listen to your heart. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but oftentimes they lead to different outcomes. Unfortunately, if you don’t listen to both your head and your heart, you’ll miss out on great opportunities to grow.
During the early-ish part of my career, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good at creativity or strategy because, up until taking on my first global marketing role, my prior roles had been primarily focused on marketing operations. And it was at that time I had met someone, who’s now become a mentor and close friend, who shook me to my very core. He made me realize that this voice in my head was a preconceived notion of what I was capable of—which wasn’t grounded in reality by any means—that I hadn’t stopped to question. I never asked myself, “What are you good at?” or “What do you want to do?” I simply accepted this voice in my head at face value. That wasn’t doing me any good.
By questioning myself, I found out I loved all things creative and strategy—and I was actually really good at them. Suddenly, that propelled my career forward. Changing the way I thought about my job—and my capabilities—made me realize that we are great at the things we love doing, but if you don’t listen to yourself, you’ll never know what you love and, as a result, you’ll just keep on doing what you think you’re supposed to do without questioning it.
This is the core of my personal philosophy: Listen to yourself and then be yourself. If you don’t take the time to tune into what’s happening inside, you won’t ever be your most authentic self.
The people who come in and out of your life can make a huge impact
Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people who have made me think about my life and what I wanted to do with it. It’s almost as if, about every four years, I meet someone new who has this uncanny way of catching me at a moment when I really need to be put back on track. This is why I fundamentally believe that you never just meet people by chance either. They enter your life for a reason—if you listen.
Meeting François-Henry Bennahmias (CEO of Audemars Piguet) was one of those moments. I got such a great vibe off of him and what he—and the broader Audemars Piguet family—was striving to accomplish. I felt like his vision spoke to my heart. It was what I needed to give myself a renewed sense of inspiration and motivation. For that, I’m truly grateful.
Many of the people who I consider to be mentors and coaches today have remained in my life for years. They are not just one-shot wonders; I know they’ll always be there to guide me and help me transform my life for the better. They’ve helped me tap into the emotional side of leadership and learn how to truly listen and take action on what I hear and feel in my heart. One mentor once told me, “Just think, and you’ll have it.” It was true. What’s funny, is he actually didn’t “teach” me anything; instead, he guided me to find what I already had within myself.
“One of my mentors didn’t actually ‘teach’ me anything; instead, he guided me to find what I already had within myself. ”
The hills are alive with the sound of (gospel) music
What many people don’t know about me is that I love to sing. I grew up singing in classical choirs. Sometimes I’d have a solo as a soprano, too. But over the years, and after taking many singing lessons at different schools, I eventually fell in love with gospel music.
Then life got in the way. I started building my career. I had kids. There just wasn’t the time to dedicate to singing anymore. But I missed it. I could feel something was missing in my life.
The move to Switzerland gave me an opportunity to rekindle my love of singing. I met this wonderful woman named Sabine, who created the School of Vocal Arts in Geneva and invited me to take lessons with her. She was able to unlock something special in me—and is also the reason why I joined the gospel choir again after so many years of putting it on the back burner.
What’s interesting about singing is that it’s a journey of constant improvement that requires you to listen to yourself, know yourself, and challenge yourself every step of the way. Having people around you, like Sabine, who care about your success makes all the difference. But singing in a choir means singing together with other people to create harmony and resonance.
This is even more powerful when singing gospel music. There’s so much purpose and strength behind it: It’s all about encouraging people to embrace their deepest convictions.
Oddly enough, one of my mentors reached out recently to see how I was doing. The first question he asked was, “Are you finally singing again?” He knew that’s what I needed. I knew it, too, even though it took me 10 years to get back into it. And now that I’m back at it, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without music again. This was a much-needed wake-up call.
“Singing is a journey of constant improvement—one you can’t do well if you don’t listen to yourself, know yourself, and challenge yourself every step of the way.”
Flowers make me smile
I love seeing flowers bloom. Any flower. I don’t have a favorite. I love the colors and the textures. But what stands out to me most—and this is what makes me smile—is the life you can see in blooming flowers. They come and go, depending on the season; it’s the cycle of life in action. For this reason, I’ve always found flowers to be amazingly beautiful.
Now, if I take a step back, I can’t help but think the reason why I love watching flowers bloom is that it makes me think about my sons growing up. At this age, they are like flowers in bloom, slowly but surely coming into their own.
This is especially the case for my 15-year-old. I can see how he’s developing his heart, his mind, his approach to life, and everything else in between. Growth happening right before my eyes—and it gives me such a huge sense of pride to see the person he’s developing into.
Generally speaking, whether it’s with my kids or the people on my team, I am a big believer in guiding people and not simply telling them what to do. With my son, for example, I let him make (and learn from his) mistakes. I encourage him to ask questions. I want him to create his own thoughts and perceptions of the world. My role is to help raise his ability to think and feel.
The joy that I get out of seeing my kids grow is the same joy that I get when I see flowers bloom.
On becoming a true citizen of the world
I’ve spent the last 20 years learning, developing myself, building my career, having a family, educating my kids, and the list goes on. But if I think now about what the next 20 years look like, I’m not really thinking about the next job or anything like that. I’m honestly focused on what I can do to make a difference in the world. It’s my time to give back.
What does that look like? I haven’t figured it out exactly. But I do know that I want to share my knowledge, expertise, and passion with the people who need it most. In many ways, I see it as my own version of CSR, in the broadest sense possible. I’m challenging myself to think about how I can be a more responsible citizen of the world and how I can contribute in some way.
One area I know I’ll explore is the arts. I’m passionate about it; it’s been a part of my life for many years, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. What I love most about art is its power to change the world by opening our eyes to see the things that we normally can’t see. It helps us decode and make sense of the world in a powerful way. So, I feel like part of this calling to make an impact revolves around promoting the arts. And for me, it’s the best way I know to lead the next 20 years of my life with both my head and my heart.
“What I love most about art is its power to change the world by opening our eyes to see the things that we normally can’t see.”
Nature will undoubtedly play a big role in my future
As humans, we’re anchored by nature, whether we realize it or not. We’re constantly thinking about the path forward, but you can’t do that well if you lose your anchor.
All I can say is that by joining the Audemars Piguet team, I feel like I’m in the right family to help propel myself forward as a true citizen of the world. This family is on a mission to lead by example and show the way. This is perfectly aligned with my own ethos of being a guide to the people around me, just as my own mentors have guided me throughout my own life.
What’s unique about Swiss watchmaking is that it’s truly one with nature. The entire industry grew from nature and has remained loyal to its roots ever since. This gives watchmaking a uniquely intangible and transcendent quality. It’s been around for all of these years and, in spite of the many technological advancements around us, it’s here to stay. It’s a part of culture just as much as it’s a part of nature. And that’s a beautiful thing.
So as I think about the future, I can’t help but feel as though it will somehow be fueled by the nature around me, the nature that has become my new anchor at this stage of my life.