|An Interview with Blancpain's new CEO Marc Hayek|
The "Three" (left to right): Marc A. Hayek, Magnus Bosse, Jean-Claude Biver
last months some changes in the management of several watch manufacturers
happened. Not all of them were wellcome by us watch enthusiasts, many
of us were disappointed or even in fear that the integrity and good reputation
of the one or the other company will be sacrified on the altars of financial
originally founded in 1735, went out of business in 1971 and was revitalized
as a manufacturer of mechanical watches by Jean-Claude Biver in 1981,
with a great and unpredicted success in the middle of the so called quartz
crisis. This event gave an impulse for the whole swiss watchmaking industry
to return back to the roots: the fine mechanical watch! Mr Biver was -
and of course still is!! - an eloquent, inspirative, provocative and knowledgeable
ambassador for the mechanical watch. However, many were vexed when he
sold Blancpain to Hayek's SMH (now Swatch group) in 1992.
(Note: This interview was originally done in German and then translated in English)
Magnus Bosse (MB): Mr Hayek, some watch manufacturers got a new management during the last few weeks. Among them is also Blancpain. What are the reasons for this? Does this have anything to do with the difficult conditions of the world economy?
Marc Hayek (MH): Yes and no! It is right that Blancpain changed its management, but it is not true that this is due to the worldwide economical situation. As you know Mr Jean-Claude Biver built up and ran Blancpain, but he also is deeply involved in the whole luxury division of the Swatch group in several positions. And at one point you have to set priorities. Additionally he faced severe health problems in the past, but thanks god they are gone! The tasks have become more and more and therefore we decided to establish a new management at Blancpain and Im extremely lucky to participate as head of marketing and as acting CEO together with Mr Nicolas G. Hayek sen. Mr Biver will still support us as consultant, because Blancpain is his baby, and we are happy that we can fall back on his enormous knowledge in the future. But there are new people doing the daily business, and of ourse there are some new ideas. That's what we live from!
MB: This change came a little bit surprising, and now there is even the grandson of Mr Hayek sen. in the leading position of Blancpain. One could think that Mr Hayek wants to support his family with good jobs. Why were you chosen to do this job?
If you look from inside this change is not that surprising as it looks
from outside. Mr Biver and I talked about this for quite a while. Blancpain
grew up to a point where one person cannot longer take care about everything.
This is one topic. The other is that I think we, Mr Biver and I, share
the same view, attitude and ideology about watches; and it is important
for him as well for my grandfather that a fascinating company like Blancpain
- that is highly dependent on individuals - will be guided with the same
attitude in the future. Since we met here Jean-Claude Biver made the suggestion
that I should get this position at Blancpain. Additionally, Mr Biver knew
of course about my work with other brands of the Swatch group, for example
Tissot and Certina. This challenge is a great honour for me and of course
is one strong reason why I came back to the watch business. In the past
I built up a restaurant, a wine distribution and especially a cigar-lounge.
With these activities I learned to guide a company in the luxury field.
And I know every sector of such a company. Wine, cigars and fine food,
for me this all counts as luxury like a fine watch: It is pleasure, fun
and joie de vivre and...
MB: This brings up the next question: What is a fine watch for you, and what does especially Blancpain mean to you?
MH: Mechanical watches are of great fascination for me! There are countless achivements of todays technique and our daily lifes associated with the mechanical watch. Just think about the Split-Seconds chronograph with its clutch. This construction is used until today in the automobile industry. But simultaneously a mechanical watch is a piece of art and not only craft or mechanics. It is artwork that has its intrinsic life and message. And it this piece of art has its own functionality and is extremely suitable for everyday usage. And it is very intimate to wear on my skin and to enjoy for myself; I do not have to exhibit a watch like a painting. Often after a very bad experience, in a bad mood I find back my peace and motivation by looking at the art and fine mechanics that I can see through the sapphire back of my watch. Then I feel joy and peace with an ease that is priceless!
MB: Could you draw a sketch of the typical Blancpain customer?
First, the Blancpain lover is a person that is able to really savour,
not only a watch. This is independent of age or sex, but this individual
has achieved something in his or her life and of course is receptive for
pleasures. This person does not need or want to buy a status symbol, but
this person is generous to her-/himself! It is not sufficient to buy a
Blancpain, it takes more: You have to learn how to admire a Blancpain:
E.g. the Répetition minutes: On the first sight it is a sober timepiece
, but if you look again you will discover that it is one of the greatest
achievements in the history of watch making art. Moreover, it gives me
greatest pleasure not only aesthetically, but also acoustically!
MB: What is your very personal Blancpain?
MH: My Blancpain is the so called QP (quantiéme perpétuel), a perpetual calendar with the Flyback chronograph and the military dial (the Ref. 2585F-1530M-53), a fascinating watch. For me it verges on the miraculous because the movement inside keeps the memory of the future: It knows in advance when a leap year will come!
MB: Blancpain is well-known as a manufacturer of fine, hand-made ultra flat watches. In this field Blancpain has achieved a great amount of savoir-faire. But Blancpain of course has its weaknesses, e.g. in the communication or in the ruggedness of the watches for everyday use. What are you going to change, what do you want to keep?
Of course an ultra flat style of construction has its problems: the watches
are more delicate to handle! But ultra flat watches are works of art representing
the soul of Blancpain, and of course I want to keep this!
MB: Nowadays a good web-page is an essential part of the communication. And the Blancpain web-page is not really the best example for this. Im sorry to say, but it is quite user-unfriendly!
MH: The internet is a relatively new medium! The Blancpain web-site is up for several years now and it is based mainly on the Flash-technology. It looks good, but it needs to be updated! We realized this and we will establish a completely new web-site that will work with HTML, only a few Flash animations and will be more user friendly. On the old site the user was forced to go through the flashes. On the coming site this will be changed: The user will have direct access to the informations she/he needs, but if a customer has time enough one is free to take a look at the animations.
MB: Mr Biver always stressed that the perfect shape of a watch is a circle. Often new heads make room for new ideas. Could you imagine to build rectangular watches or even watches with retrograde displays one day?
MH: Im a man who can think of many things, and I hate to say never! But seriously: For me a Blancpain is a round watch! So Im pretty sure that in the next future a Blancpain will only have a circular case! This is the natural shape for watch: kids draw circular watches!
MB: Blancpain, Breguet and Glashütte Original have two facts in common: They manufacture haute horlogerie but they are both part of the almighty Swatch group! And Blancpain also now has a Hayek as manager. How could you ensure the individuality of Blancpain?
For me this is very important: We are special! But first let me say something
about the topic Hayek! In our family everyone grew up as an
individual and not as a small Hayek. This is a question of
individuality: This is extremely important topic in our family. If you
look at my father you easily imagine this: He IS an individual by nature
and not a chliché! And I am Marc! This has its advantages as well
as its disadvantages: If I want to achieve something then I have to work
for it like everyone else. And I took the risk to build up my own business
and to be self-employed. I have proven that I can run a company. And now
that I come back to the Swatch group this is not because of what the Swiss
call Vetterliwirtschaft (nepotism). Nepotism ever was a red
rag in our family. To be honest it sometimes is really hard to be a Hayek.
My grandfather will not forgive me that easy if I do something wrong.
MB: If you look some years ahead: What will be the future of watch making? Will we see new design, constructions, complications or materials?
MH: Unfortunately I cannot look in the future. But I am convinced that there will be many new constructions. But we do not have the potiential for improvements like we had 100 years ago. And especially Blancpain is both: innovative and based on tradition. We use only high end mechanical movements and will not follow any short-lived trends in the future.
MB: But in the Swatch group you have one innovation and one statement: Omegas coaxial escapement, one of the few real improvements in the last 100 years, and there is the idea of Mr Pfeifer of Glashütte Original to replace some metal parts by ceramic parts, e.g. in the escapement.
MH: Mr Pfeifer belongs to the most innovative and impressive persons in the watchmaking business. This is a type of character that ensures the individuality of a brand. But at Blancpain there is up to now no discussion of using either the coaxial escapement or ceramics in our watches.
MB: That means innovation is the job of other brands?
MH: No, but we want to go in an other direction. We do not want to take over innovations from other companies. Maybe they become standard in the future! We want to develop additional complications or combinations of complications, but right now I do not want to tell what we are working on...(smiles)
MB: So for now Blancpain only wants to offer new combinations of different complications?
MH: No, but still I think this is quite charming: I give the customer the chance to choose the two or three complications he fell in love without having to buy six (the 1735). This adds to individuality. And the Blancpain customer is an individualist, and he wants to have this service. For the art of watchmaking every new combination represents a new challenge. But we do not want to restrict ourselves with this. We are working hard on something very new. Again: I will give no hints! A present is much more tempting packed than with a little hole that allows you to get an idea of what is hidden inside...
MB: ... what we as children of course did in the days before Christmas! Mr Hayek, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview and all the best for the future!
MH: Thank you very much, too!
Credits: Special thanks to Bettina Walch from the Swiss Radio station DRS3 for providing me with the recording equipment, to Christel Räber of Blancpain and last but not least to my girlfriend Isabelle for proof reading of the manuscript.
Magnus Bosse © Dezember 2001 Last update 10 December 2006