Fred Mouawad sits down with Prestige to discuss the things that matter most: compassion, integrity, and family values.
The founder and CEO of Synergia One Group of Companies, and co-guardian of the 132-year-old house of Mouawad, Fred Mouawad is one of the most established names in the world of diamond jewellery. The website wealthx.com estimates his net worth at US$1.1 billion, naming him the eight richest diamond owner in the world — an achievement he is quick to brush aside.
“It’s not a world I alone created,” he explains, “It is a family legacy. I’m playing my part in helping the family business grow, so I don’t take credit for being listed as the ‘eighth wealthiest’. It’s really me being in a position where I continue that legacy as a guardian. I have my ventures though.”
Today, Fred is actively charting the future of the Mouawad legacy. We spoke to him about his career, and his unique approach to leadership. Here’s what we learned.
Daydream for at least 10 minutes a day
“I think I’m a dreamer,” Fred declares without hesitation, “I like to dream, reflect, and let my wind wander.” When he isn’t busy challenging himself with the opening of yet another company, Fred makes sure to set aside 10 minutes of his day to dream. To the driven gamechanger, meditating in relaxed fashion over a cup of coffee, is not negotiable.
Keep challenging yourself.
When we accuse Fred of being a serial entrepreneur, he laughs in response. “I’m not a serial entrepreneur, I’m just someone trying to improve and seek challenges. I get bored easily and need to challenge myself to stay interested. I like to have that objective measurement.”
This much is true. Outside of Mouawad, Fred’s business interests have spread a wide net, encompassing tech, consulting, food, retail, and publishing. The latest is CI Talks, the producer of motivational videos with ‘Stories That Spark Change’.
Experience is the best kind of school
Fred arrived in Bangkok at the age of 21. Fresh out of college, he immediately took over as General Manager of the Mouawad factory — an experience he considers to have shaped much of his leadership today.
“I had never worked, never led a team, and now I had to deal with 300 employees from day one. That was the best school. I spent 14 hours a day working and putting myself in every department, learning every aspect of the business before I started improving it. That’s when I devised a 22-point quality control system that we still use today.”
Love conquers all, but hard work makes it last
On how he maintains a happy family life despite his many responsibilities, Fred admits it wasn’t always easy. He met his wife Sukanya, or “Youi”, at the age of 25, and today the two of them are raising their two children in Bangkok. Jimmy, now 25, is the fifth-generation Co-Guardian of Mouawad, and his sister Mayura, aged 13, is currently busy just being a teenager.
“Youi and I have had an interesting journey,” he muses, “it took us many years to learn, to compromise, and to adapt. But I think it’s that resilience, acceptance, and tolerance that is important. It comes from understanding and respecting our different backgrounds. We worked through our differences by simply respecting each other’s culture and allowing space for our own beliefs.”
As for his children, Fred hopes they will grow into individuals who put integrity first. “I want them to continue developing themselves to reach their full potential, to take leadership, to do good in life, and hold onto our family values, putting integrity first. I’d like them to continue as the fifth-generation co-guardians, even if they have business on the side. And if they have the passion for it, I hope they develop the skills required to continue. If Mayura wants to be, let’s say, a doctor, then I just want her to focus on being a successful doctor. There’s nothing worse than forcing people to live the life they don’t want to live.”
Be passionate about what you do, and dare to make things happen
A diamantaire at his core, Fred’s eyes sparkle when asked to name a Mouawad creation that truly defines him. The ‘Mouawad Dragon Suite’ is his definitive answer, and at the heart of this ve-piece suite is an extraordinary polished 54.21 carat round brilliant cut, vivid yellow diamond – the Mouawad Dragon – the largest of its type. This deeply saturated yellow, vivid diamond is bonded for eternity to hundreds of brilliant white diamonds that fade into the background, creating a warmth of frozen fire that draws you in.
“You cannot understand the Mouawad Dragon till you wear it,” he tells us, “The diamond and necklace are a world record holder. It defines me because we dared to cut a round diamond of that size. The accepted wisdom is that you lose colour when you cut a diamond in a round shape, but I saw the potential in the rough and took the chance. This story defines a little bit of what we do as a company.”
Remember to put yourself first more often
“At 53, I’m trying to find balance, shift my priorities. Earlier, it was all about work and my leadership roles and trying to fit in time with the family. Social connections needed attention too. ‘Fred’ was always less, always last,” he tells us. It was only when Covid-19 hit that Fred’s perspective came to change. “Never before was I so constrained. I had to focus on other ares, and that’s how I got into exercising a lot more. I’m hoping to keep that discipline up, and put ‘Fred’ first more often.”
He does, however, see the necessity behind sacrifices, and admits without regret that he wouldn’t have achieved what he did, if he hadn’t placed himself last on the long list of priorities. “Without sacrifices, you diminish your impact, and you cannot achieve.”
You can be tough, but still lead with your heart
“Self-reflection has taught me that you can’t be good at everything. You have to realise your strengths and weaknesses, and come up with strategies to work on the weaknesses.” It is this professionalism that the House of Mouawad has escaped the curse of most family businesses — surviving and thriving while moving from one generation to the next. While Fred and his brothers, Alain and Pascal, make key decisions, the qualified management team runs the company.
Fred explains that his commitment to work, caring about the growth of people working for him, and making a positive impact on society are values he stresses. “There’s a definite alignment between what I believe, how I feel, and what I do. I’m fortunate to be able to make a difference. Not everyone is in that position, so I’m privileged. There’s also a sense of responsibility to invest time, effort, and resources to make that difference.”
“I love creating a place where people are challenged,” Fred goes on to tells us, “it’s motivating to see someone join the organisation at an entry-level position and end up climbing the ladder. The CFO of the group came in originally as an analyst for one of my websites. I’m a tough competitor, but I’m not ruthless. I lead with my heart. This gives me satisfaction. This is the reward I want. This is why I do what I do.”
Don’t be afraid to strike out and do your own thing
Looking back at his relationship with his own parents, Fred muses that there were some rocky moments, particularly when he first joined the business. In fact, for 17 years, he charted his path outside of Mouawad. “After three years in the family business, I realised my relationship with my father was becoming strained.” His father had been reluctant to delegate, and Fred felt he lacked the freedom to contribute.
Instead, he applied to Harvard Business School, and used it as a bridge to start his own ventures. When his father handed Mouawad over to Fred and his brothers in 2010, Fred had already spent 17 years running different businesses in different industries. “I was able to bring all that knowledge to Mouawad. Had I stayed in the business from day one, I may not have developed as much as I did. I wouldn’t have seen the world. With hindsight, I can say that it was an excellent decision.”
Still, Fred underlines the importance of family. His father Robert, he explains, made a lot of sacrifices. His mother Leila, on the other hand, emphasised the importance of family values and unconditional love. Today, the entire Mouawad family connects at least once a year. The family holiday this year will be in Dubai, as Robert and Leila prefer not to venture too far from Bahrain, where they live. Last year, they all gathered on the family yacht for a cruise through the Greek islands.
Make time for your own indulgences
Today, Fred is still very much a busy man. “I always have responsibilities. If I’m not in a meeting, I have to attend to my emails. If I’m not with the family, I have to get back to my work.” However, he still sets aside time for a few favourite pastimes. He recalls owning a Harley Davidson back in the US. As the streets are too hot and dangerous for big bikes, today Fred sticks to his business-like BMW when in Bangkok, but he also has a Rolls-Royce Ghost tucked away in one of his residences.
Another one of his indulgences is “getting away”, preferably to a ski slope in France surrounded by mountains and nature. Getting away in Thailand, by contrast, usually means spending time in his Jomtien condo with its vast ocean views.
Currently, Fred is focused less on past successes and more on what’s still left to do. “I’m never entirely satisfied. That’s why I’m driven. The minute I start saying ‘Oh, I’ve achieved so much, I’m so proud,’ that’s when I’ll start slowing down. I’d rather stay hungry.”
Photographer: Vatcharasith Wichyanrat
Photographer’s Assistants: Somboonkiat Wonghom & Kiattisak Janprai
Stylist: Naphat Thanabulanun
Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist: Sompatsorn Thanomthanatam
Editorial Coordinator: Kanyaphat Somwong
Location: Sindhorn Kempinski Hotel Bangkok
This story first appeared in the January 2022 issue of Prestige Thailand and PrestigeOnline Thailand