Tiina Parikka, has been the principal at the Finnish School of Watchmaking for over 17 years.

1. Describe briefly your childhood.

My winning lottery ticket is that I grew up in a family where me and my two sisters were always supported and encouraged to do whatever we wanted to do in life. The 60’s and 70’s were times when almost everything was done by hand and not bought. My dad says that whenever there was a new task at hand, I wanted to try to do it myself, not just watch from beside. Thus, from my own experience I know so well that high-quality hand skills can only be obtained by doing things over and over again. My mom stayed at home for years, taking care of the family. My dad was a development engineer, always working with his inventions. I can still smell the atmosphere and air of his garage when I was helping him with his projects on our car. I have to admit I sometimes felt shame when I had to explain to my peers what my dad was about to do again. But looking back to my childhood now, I’m so proud about my dad and his feverish drive to solve problems and my mom who did amazing job teaching us the basics of life. The children in the neighborhood were mostly boys and us girls fit in perfectly. There never was a question of gender. I learned to speak out when somebody was treated in an unfair manner and not hide behind anyone’s back. We were all equal. I learned to feel comfortable in crowds, as boys do. I was a true tom-boy. This is why it’s always been a bit strange for me to see girls having more of “one-to one, best friend” –kind of friendships. There was a shadow over our loving family, however. My dad was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when I wasn’t even going to school yet. Our mom took charge and at that time children weren’t told how serious it was and life continued. The doctors didn’t expect for him to see his 40 th birthday. Today I know I’m very fortunate that I still have my soon 88-year-old dad here with me. It’s weird how a 56-year-old can still think: I have to ask dad! And even more, I’m still able to do it.

2. As a child did you have any driving ambition?

I loved books as soon as I learned to read. Even today, reading and writing are almost like breathing to me. I dreamt of having my own library. Reading was my way to go under people’s skins in far-away countries and enchanting cultures. After reading The Egyptian by Mika Waltari at the age of about 11 years, I wanted to become an archeologist and investigate the world. I was interested in different languages and tried to learn as much as I could by listening to my dad’s Linguaphone vinyl lp language lessons in addition to elementary school language classes.

3. What is your first significant memory as a child?

I’ve always been energetic and active. That’s the way I am. My mom says that she never remembers me walking anywhere. I was constantly jumping and running. I was about three when I remember playing football with my twin sister in our living room. My sister kicked the ball into the open fireplace and I rushed after the ball. I hit my forehead on the concrete frame of the fireplace and had a massive bleeding. My vivid memory is lying down on my parents’ bed and trying to look up and see how the upstairs doctor was digging the wound with a shiny medical instrument that looked like mom’s crochet hook. Soon after this I was in full action again. This memory pretty well describes my attitude to life. You can get hits while you put all your effort in doing things but without action you can never achieve anything.

4. Have you ever had another profession?

I had my university degree in English and French and was trained to be a teacher. In 1991 I started my career in upper-secondary education as a language teacher. I loved working with students, teaching, creating new courses, starting international co-operation between our and other European schools and coaching students to find their passion in life. The best memories are shedding tears together with a student failing my test and encouraging him or her in digging out personal strengths and finally succeeding in my tests. I’ve had my own jewelry brand, Lady Renaissance since 2009.

5. What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in?

After having worked for over 10 years in teaching I noticed that I needed new challenges. I loved working with young people but felt I couldn’t have enough influence on the ways things were done at school. I wanted to do things differently. I was interested in leadership which turned out to be one of my strengths. Now I know that I want and can inspire people to aim for their best performance. I had learned about the Finnish Watchmaking School from one of its teachers years before I suddenly noticed that the school was looking for a principal. Since crafts and technical work were so familiar to me, I wasn’t scared about how I’d manage. Later on I was told that five of the applicants were interviewed, me being the only female. The jump from general to vocational education was quite a leap. It’s great that my favorite sports at school was high-jump and I was really good at it, too! The most important skill in being a principal is having first-hand teaching experience. You don’t have to be expert in everything that the school offers but you must understand pedagogy because all the financial decisions you make, will affect teaching. I can’t express how fortunate I am having made the decision to dive into the world of watchmaking. Meeting in person and seeing the results of the persistent work of the living legends like Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutilainen, the Grönefeld brothers, just to mention a few, makes me feel priviledged.

6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?

Still as a high-school student, I worked at a lunch restaurant as a cashier. It was fun to have a summer job and I learned a lot from working life there. The worst experience it was because the employer took advantage of my non-existing experience about proper wages and paid me so little that I felt used afterwards. I didn’t understand why he was so unfair. Being unfair is something I detest most in life. Fairness is one of my first guidelines when it comes to leadership in my own work. The most difficult task in my present position was to have to make a well-liked and hard-working employee redundant because of financial cuts. Financial worries are nothing compared to decisions that directly concern staff and their personal life.

7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?

Out of my four, dear children, the twins were born over three months prematurely, weighing only about 800 grams. After their birth I had to helplessly watch them turning blue, being resuscitated and poked with all kinds of instruments. Later on one of the twins had over 30 orthopedic surgeries, two of which almost killed her. There’s no other pain as deep-cutting as seeing the silent pain in the eyes of your swollen child in the ICU. Then my decision was, no matter how hard it would be for me, I wouldn’t leave my child alone, but stay beside her. No job would be as important as that.

Later, as years passed and the kids grew up, I experienced total exhaustion, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. One of the twins had a severe cerebral palsy, needing help in everything except thinking (as she put it herself), the other twin was losing all of her eyesight because of prematurity. The losses were almost unbearable. I was working full time, assisting the kids in the mornings and evenings. I would do anything to ensure them all the possibilities in life, not counting the hours I spent. There was little help available. I felt that when the doctors had made miracles in survival, you are left totally alone to handle to consequences of complications. The start for my recovery was when I found beauty around. I’m convinced that we need beauty to survive. It is what makes us human. We also have an innate power to heal ourselves. I started making jewelry by hand and so was born my own brand Lady Renaissance. I started to see light again. I was reborn in a way and also, my handicapped daughter once called me a Renaissance woman, because I was interested in everything and did all the different things by hand. I always told my kids that there are always more possibilities than obstacles and barriers in life.

8. Who has had the strongest influence on you?

My father was only around ten when his family had to flee war from Carelia and leave his home there for good. I’ve felt very strongly about these Finnish refugees’ will to survive and strive for a better life and starting life over. I haven’t become a problem-oriented, but more of a solution-oriented person. Maybe it’s because of my family background that whenever I meet with an obstacle, I dig deep to find out all the information and then start putting up a puzzle to find a solution. So, after all, I guess I ended up becoming a kind of an archeologist anyway!

9. What are you most proud of?

I’ve kept my smile through hard times. When life was really hard, I mean really hard, I didn’t give up. I’ve learned to love myself and appreciate the work I’ve done. All my children live on their own being full members of the society.

10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?

Find out the facts, listen to your heart, make a decision. Live, as long as you live, and love. Take time for your family. You can lose your job, your possessions, your health but you still have everything you need if you have your loved-ones around.

11. Name three things on your bucket list.

Have my manuscript for a novel published.

Stand on the bank of the Arctic Sea in Norway.

Tell my closest ones that I love them, as often as I can.

12. Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.

There is a growing interest towards individuality. The interest towards independent watchmakers will definitely rise. Young men are more and more interested in wearing a watch already from an early age and this will lead to buying more expensive and finer watches during their careers. Appreciation of craftsmanship is on the rise as well. People love stories and they want to see the people behind the brands. The time of mass production is declining. This is something that the brands need to pay attention to in their marketing.

To learn more about Tiina Parikka