We recently met up with the LVMH Watch Division President, TAG Heuer CEO, Zenith ad interim CEO, and Hublot Chairman in New York, where we discussed a wide range of topics, from Bella Hadid, TAG Heuer’s recently minted women’s ambassador, to his immediate plans for Zenith.
Interview by Jon Bues
Why Bella Hadid? How did you find her?
I didn’t find her. It’s my son, who was 14 years old. When he told me, about two years ago, that we should have Bella if we would like to reach the audience of people of his age, the millennials, the people that are now 16 or 17 years old. And yeah, as time went on, we realized—I realized—that he was right. That we should do it. So we took a few months to react, and then we signed last year this new partnership. So really the input comes from a millennial, who happens to be my son, and we followed his advice. So it was not my idea.
That leads to my next question, which is that it seems like the younger generation—these millennials—are not terribly interested in owning watches.
That’s why we have to talk to them. If they are not interested in watches, that gives you an additional reason to promote among them the fact that the watch exists, that the watch can be beautiful, that the watch can have lot of meanings, that the watch can bring luck, that the watch is eternal, and so on. So the less they are interested in watches, the more you must try to change their mind. This tells me that we are right to do that.
Do you see this primarily as a play for the Connected Watch or do you see this.…?
No, both, both, both. Definitely both. No, there is no reason why it should be more the Connected Watch rather than the normal watch. I think absolutely both. Eventually, even a majority more the traditional watches.
So you’ve recently taken over Zenith. Are you now spending most of your time on that brand?
No, I’m CEO ad interim, and ad interim takes some time, but I would not say I spend more time at Zenith than on TAG Heuer. I think TAG Heuer takes 60 percent of my time. Probably Zenith takes some time away from Hublot. I’m quite sure I will have a new Zenith CEO by June.
What do you see as your responsibility for Zenith? Is it to create the strategy and hand it off to someone else?
Yes. It’s to create the strategy and to prepare the brand for a new boss. And to open some ways, because we don’t want to lose time. We don’t want to wait until June, or eventually September, so in the intermediate time I said I’ll do it myself. But I’m not doing it all alone, which means I have taken the best people we have in the group in R&D, the best people in product development, the best people in the operations, industrial operations, the best people in marketing, the best people in sales. And these different task forces are gathering once a week each at Zenith and we give Zenith the input, which means suddenly Zenith can benefit from the best R&D developments we have in the group and we can decide together with Zenith, “Okay this project you like, we give it to you.”
It means that Zenith is now getting the best of the best of what we have in the group. And this will help and increase the potential of Zenith enormously because suddenly a small brand with a small turnover has the best people. People that Zenith could never get and never pay.
So we really have done, as I said, R&D, product development, operations, industrial operations, marketing, and sales—all these fields every week. Monday is marketing, sales, and product, Tuesday is sales and R&D, so every week, these committees come together at Zenith and we help, we assist Zenith. Zenith can say, “Okay guys, I want this.” Good, we give it to you. This new development, we give it to you. A new movement, okay, it was not foreseen for you—you want it, okay we give it to you. A new marketing strategy, you want, we give it to you. So Zenith has….
A lot of firepower, all of a sudden.
You know, they’re suddenly sitting in a restaurant where they can get all the food they want. They just have to say this one, this one, this one. Before they were outside and only sandwiches were available—sauerkraut—and now suddenly they are sitting in the best restaurant and they can choose whatever they want. So it’s a huge privilege that we are giving to the brand, and this will last till we find a new CEO, and by then probably certain things will have settled down and Zenith can start again.
How about on the retail side—are you looking to open boutiques for them?
No, this is one thing I can say. We are not looking to open boutiques. We want to work together with multibrand stores. To open your own boutiques, you need quite high awareness. Who would enter into a boutique when they don’t know the brand? People enter a mono-brand boutique if they know the brand. If the brand is unknown why should you go into a boutique? So, we are more at ease and we are more successful if we are together with multibrand stores. When people enter into the multibrand because they want to buy a watch then this is more adapted to us than the mono-brand. So we are not looking to open our own shop.
What do you see as the main challenge facing the watch industry right now?
I think it’s the new generation, you know, the new generation means a lot. The new generation will command this century. In 2030, the new generation will be 30 years old. Let’s say the year 2035, the new generation will be 35 years old. They will be at the head of the companies, of the countries, of the economy, of finance, of business, of sales. They will make the century. Today, most people are from the 20th century. I’m from the 20th century. President Trump is from the 20th. All the people that are at the head of the countries are from the 20th century, with the culture of the 20th century, the mentality of the 20th century, with the dedication of the 20th century, with the philosophy of the 20th century, with the concept of the 20th century.
The 21st century will only start when the people born in the 21st century take over. They will shape this century. Today, it is shaped by the same people as in 1998 or 1999 or 1996. Then we will see big changes. This is the challenge. Will these changes of behavior, of mentality, will it harm the automobile industry—in which sense? How? Will it change airplanes? I don’t know. How? Will it change the sea? Will it change the fishing—will we still eat fish? Maybe there will not be enough fishes in the sea anymore. Will we still eat beef? I don’t know. Will we still wear watches? I don’t know. So, the change will come for sure. Now, in which direction it will go. I cannot see so far. Because I’m talking 2030, 2035. In 2035, which is in 18 years, I will be 86.
But for sure, there will be changes. For sure, there will be other behaviors. For sure, the watch will have other meanings. We have to work, we have to think, we have to open our eyes, we have to learn, we have to listen, then we’ll see.
It will be tough work, but I feel like the mechanical watch is … it’s an invention—it’s a technology that’s already been killed once. Right?
So you can’t kill something twice. It came back with a totally different reason for being.
It came back as a status symbol and back as a fashion symbol. It came back as an emotion—it came back as a dream. And that is a good comeback because it is a comeback related to art. And art somehow is eternal. So I think a certain number of brands will survive whatever will happen because of those reasons. Now in technology, it’s different. Will we still wear a watch to know about our health? Will I still wear a watch to know where my car is, or will I still wear a watch to open the doors of my house? I think yes. But that’s when we have instruments. And I think we will have watches as an instrument and watches as a piece of art. And the two can survive because the two have other functions. And you can have during daytime a watch that is an information tool and at night for dinner, for Valentine’s you can wear a watch that is a piece of art. You can wear the watch that your wife offered you, and you can put it on your wrist. And tomorrow morning, you can again wear a Connected Watch. So the two are not competing, and as long as the two are not competing, the two can survive.
Back to the Connected Watch. Does the Carrera own that for eternity, or could you see a Monaco one with a square screen at some point? What are your thoughts for the Connected Watch?
For the time being, we will stick to the Carrera. But nothing forbids us that one day we could see a Monaco. But it’s not in our plans, which means 2017, 2018, 2019 we will not see a Monaco in the Connected Watch. We will only see Carrera. But in 2020, we could change it. We could have a Monaco Connected Watch. Why not? It’s not excluded. It’s not in the program—it’s not in the plan, but I wouldn’t close the door.
I’d like to end with more of a conceptual question that I’m asking CEOs these days. What is time to you?
Time is love. How can you say time is love? Where is the relation with love? I say that the relation is the following: Time is eternal. Time has no end. What is eternity? Eternity, if you believe in any religion, whatever the name of the religion, is God. And what is God? You can ask 6,000 religions around the world—10,000 religions—they all will say: God is love. If time is eternity, and eternity is God, and God is love—that means time is love.