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“I Shouldn’t Say This”: A Watch Executive Reveals Her Favorite Timepiece

20 questions with Watchbox COO Amanda Ellison.

With the global market for pre-owned watches hitting a new high of $16 billion annually, Watchbox’s expansion into the Middle East is right on time.

Amanda Ellison, the Philadelphia-based company’s global president and chief operating officer, recently brought the secondhand buying and selling platform to Dubai Watch Week on the heels of a new partnership with regional giant Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons. The joint venture is a significant expansion for Watchbox, which launched in 2017 and reported a revenue run rate of $200 million in 2019.

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To sell premium used watches, Watchbox combines a mix of white-glove services, such as authentication, with a robust online platform that gives retail partners the ability to trade and evaluate a vast network of pre-owned timepieces. The company has previously expanded into markets such as Switzerland, Hong Kong and South Africa, where the 53-year-old Ellison was born.

Reception in the Middle East has been enthusiastic, Ellison says. In particular, women in Dubai are “way more interested in watches” than their American counterparts, a trend that caught her by surprise—and inspired her to begin working on a new line of women’s watches.

Meanwhile, the men in Dubai tended to demonstrate more knowledge of the inner working of watches than men in the States, said Ellison. For American men, she says, a watch purchase is “much more about an aesthetic.”

Still, some things are universal. The top watch brands in the U.S. are exactly the same in the Middle East, according to the Watchbox executive: Patek Phillipe, Rolex, F.P. Journe and Audemars Piguet.

Worth recently caught up with Ellison to discuss her favorite watches, the challenges she faced as she rose to the C-suite and the best advice she ever received.

1. What are you currently reading?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. He gives great advice on building and running a startup. Everybody thinks it’s so glamorous, but it’s actually pretty darn difficult.

2. Your favorite city?

Cape Town for its beauty, New York for its energy, Dubai for its hospitality and Barcelona for its architecture.

3. How many days a year do you travel?

Last year, I took 112 flights.

4. Do you fly private?

I wish–it’s all commercial.

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5. What’s your airline of choice?

One hundred percent Emirates. Their customer experience is hands-down the best for me. I will change my schedule to get on an Emirates flight.

6. Other than your iPhone, what do you never travel without?

Clean underwear. Can I say that?

7. Yes, you can. What’s your investment philosophy?

I’m pretty conservative by nature. If you’re not in the game of Wall Street, don’t try to do it yourself. Find someone in the industry who you can trust and lean on for guidance. The cards are stacked against you as an individual.

8. What’s your best investing tip?

When you’re deciding what company to invest in, pay very close attention to the people. A vision just remains a vision without the right people, so look beyond the story of a company and at the people who are going to execute.

9. What’s the worst investing mistake you’ve ever made?

I made some very bad bets on oil around 2015. I’ve also invested a lot of time in two or three people in my life who let me down. But no one worth knowing lacks scar tissue—it only counts as a failure if you don’t learn from it.

10. What is your favorite movie?

Now you’re gonna find the dark side of me: Frances, a biographical drama about the life of an actress from the 1930s called Frances Farmer. She was unconventional, refused to conform to norms, didn’t compromise—and she paid the ultimate price. They saw her as crazy and locked her up in the loony bin. Ultimately she ended up having a lobotomy. It appeals to me because the same thing would have happened to me if I had been around in the ’30s.

11. Do you prefer beer or wine?

Definitely not beer. Either a New Zealand or South African sauvignon blanc. I know the oenophiles will die when I say this, but I like it on ice.

12. Favorite meal at a restaurant?

This is super easy for me: the cheesecake at Petit Maison in Dubai, hands-down.

13. What type of watch do you wear?

I shouldn’t say this because it’ll annoy some people, but I’m a Rolex girl through and through. I have two watches that I wear, both Rolex Daytona. One in yellow gold and one in stainless steel.

14. Who’s your favorite designer?

I don’t have one. I don’t like something because it comes with a name.

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15. Favorite outfit?

A simple black dress.

16. What do you drive?

My everyday car is a Mercedes SUV—I don’t know what kind. My favorite car, though, is an Alfa Romeo GTV from 1973. My husband is obsessed with cars. He bought it knowing it was my favorite when I was growing up, and he restored it himself. It’s the only car I’ve ever fallen in love with.

17. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

I’ve had three major challenges that molded me: the death of my father when I was 19, coming to American on my own when I was 24 with $2,000 in my pocket and facing cancer in my early 30s.

18. What keeps you up at night?

You can’t control what happens to you, but what you can control is how you react. If I’m up at night, it’s because I’m not practicing that rule. Otherwise, I sleep soundly.

19. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be very wary of people who don’t practice restraint, because living without restraint means living without discipline. Wealth is a privilege, and one should treat it with respect and responsibility.

20. What is your worst habit?

Easy: working too hard. I openly preach work/life balance, but I’ve never been able to master the art of it. I welcome anybody to come and teach me how to do it.

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