Karin Adcock's lucky charms

She looks like a model from one of her own magazine advertisements for jewellery brand Pandora, but Karin Adcock, the towering Danish blonde company director and chief executive, can wield a power drill and fix a car engine with the best of them.

Like many European women, Adcock adores jewellery and dressing up, but she's also a bit of a Lara Croft at heart.

“I'm quite picky about what I wear; my style is classic and feminine but also a little bit out there,” she said. “I like pushing the boundaries.”

Pushing the boundaries has also meant adventures, such as constructing a charity school in South Africa, stripping out the furniture and fittings in six-star hotels in Asia for use in private schools in Europe, and even building a boat with the largest fibreglass hull in the world.

She believes the experience of living in several countries – she moved from Hong Kong to Australia 14 years ago to be with her now husband, pilot Brook - has helped her to develop a diverse set of skills.

“When you travel a lot, you see things in a flexible way, take risks and learn to be tolerant; I apply that to my business life.”

Pandora was launched by Danish jeweller and goldsmith Per Enevoldsen, and his wife in 1982. Together, they moved into wholesaling through offshore licensees.

After two false starts with other brands (which collapsed in Europe), Adcock came across Pandora.

She jumped at the chance to get the licence for Australia and New Zealand, initially selling the product through established jewellery stores.

“There's never one answer and that's how I see the marketing of Pandora,” she said.

“We try lots of avenues and maybe some things don't work, but many do and we learn.”

Pandora's speedy formation from a home garage in Sydney to stores in five capital cities has taken only four years. The company now employs more than 250 people and has had a 478 per cent year-on-year growth rate between 2005 and 2009.

“Getting my work life balance right with three kids is a challenge, but you just have to keep trying, as well as being on the look-out for business opportunities,” Adcock said.

What also helps Adcock is her very consensual style of leadership. She likes to delegate and many of the original staff are still working with her.

“The biggest thrill about having brought Pandora this far is we have a very engaged workforce and we just became the best local employer of the year in Sydney's northern beaches from a survey among 50 local companies in our area. We have a lot of buy-in and that's pretty exciting,” Adcock said.

Of course, taking risks is always important in setting up a business.

“I had to trust my instinct that it would work. Initially, most jewellers were reluctant to embrace our brand because it was too different and too fiddly with all the beads - and they didn't believe it could work,” Adcock said.

But she said the power of Pandora was so compelling that when she placed an A-frame outside a jewellers' store, several women walked in within minutes and began ordering product – one even rang a friend and placed an order for her as well.

“It was unreal and the retailer found it hard to argue,” Adcock said. “He signed us up immediately.”

Other risks were signing up for their first store on a seven-year lease.

“That cost us enormously," she said. "[But] if you don't take risks, you're not trying hard enough.”

Pandora has deliberately gone hard with advertising and, although that hasn't been a cheap strategy, it has paid off with brand positioning, revenue, and the expansion of its distribution from established jewellery retailers to company-owned stores.

This has led to the opening of 16 Pandora concept stores in capital cities and major airports, plus the establishment of five concession stores in Myer.

It seems so clearly successful now.

And yet when Adcock first noticed the product being worn by the Danes on a visit back home, Australians weren't really into charm bracelets.

After making inquiries, Adcock discovered that Pandora was making inroads into market share in other countries, so she decided to make a business case and pitch for the wholesale distribution.

“I loved the whole idea of the 'unforgettable moment', which meant that every occasion could be celebrated by a charm, which led to another charm ... I just knew it would be a winner.”

Working from scratch, she and her team built up distribution up to almost 700 accounts in Australia and New Zealand.

Using the principles behind Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller The Tipping Point, in which a product (or service) is typically sampled among key influencers to develop word of mouth, Adcock gave several local women each a bracelet on the proviso that they would wear it, talk about it and spread her brochures around.

She also left point-of-sale material in hairdressing salons and cafes, and supported local fund-raising events to further reinforce the brand.

At a ceremony this year, the Danish ambassador presented the Adcocks with Prince Henrik's Medal of Honour for export.

At the function, Linda Hodge (their first employee and accounts manager) said Karin Adcock had always had a vision of where she was going with the brand and was adamant about advertising at a time when funds were tight.

“[I said to her] You can't afford to do that,” Hodge said. “To which Karin replied: 'We can't afford not to.' ”

And the rest is history.