Jean-Claude Biver: On Making Babies, Luck & Smartwatches
Swiss watchmaking’s living legend dispenses worldly advice.
Jean-Claude Biver will make a believer out of you. The president of LVMH watches, CEO of TAG Heuer and interim CEO of Zenith (both brands under the auspices of the LVMH Group), is known to be the watch business’s most outstanding and iconoclastic strategist and marketer.
At the height of the quartz crisis, Biver championed the gospel of mechanical luxury watches to take Blancpain out of the doldrums. At Omega, he spearheaded the product placement and celebrity-led marketing strategies – from Cindy Crawford endorsements to star turns in the James Bond franchise – to launch the brand into mainstream consciousness and propelled it to new financial heights. Similarly, he overturned the fortunes of Hublot when he took over the brand in the mid-2000s, famously increasing sales five-fold in three years.
Biver joined TAG Heuer in 2014 and quickly applied his Midas touch, overhauling entire product families, making price adjustments, and marching out smartwatches in collaboration with Google and Intel – a move that raised eyebrows in an industry preoccupied with mechanical watches.
But Biver is making no apologies. "Never in TAG Heuer’s history have we done so well in terms of financial turnover!" he proclaimed at our interview this Baselworld. “2016 showed the best turnover for the brand since 1860!”
We look back at a few choice statements from the legend himself.
ON INNER BEAUTY
"If you feed a cow, horse or dog junk, it will show on their fur. Likewise, if a company wants its customers to perceive the brand differently, then you must start by changing the culture and attitudes of the staff internally."
"You cannot have five babies in two years. It is the same with any brand. Five years is the minimium time it takes time to build a brand and get something for your efforts. You cannot rush these things. Life is like that."
Biver took over Hublot, crystallised the brand's 'Art Of Fusion' concept, and transformed the brand into a resolutely contemporary and audacious sports watch heavyweight
"Anyone can work hard at his job, sure. BUT if he has passion for the job, then he is on a another level. Why is Roger Federer better than everyone else? He trains the same number of hours, has the same rounds of failures, plays the same number of games, faces the same kinds of problems with his wife and trainer. Same! But one thing sets him apart - passion. Passion to the death."
"Experience is bad if you don't use it to shape the future. If you use experience to look back on the past, your experience belongs in the museum."
Biver was quick to face up to the rising tide of smartwatches by hooking TAG Heuer up with Google and Intel to offer Swiss watchmaking's own connected watches
ON EMBRACING CHANGE
"We are driven by today's customers, not 18th century rules. Just as quartz, which the watch industry has adopted, needs to keep evolving, now is the time to work with connected watches. If you don't do it, you let Samsung, LG and Apple do it. And they WILL take your market share. So build that wall between Silicon Valley and Switzerland. This wall is to tell people that the Swiss watch industry will make our OWN connected watches."
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