Out with The Old … —

The Duke of Welling­ton, 72, is out at the Richemont Group. Ms. Keyu Jin, PHD, 34, is in.

WatchTime - - LAST MINUTE - — by Joe Thomp­son —

— On Septem­ber 13, the Duke of Welling­ton will leave the board of di­rec­tors of the Richemont Group, Switzer­land’s sec­ond largest watch com­pany. Arthur Charles Va­le­rian Welles­ley is the 9th Duke of Welling­ton, a direct de­scen­dant of the hero of Water­loo. He’s been on the Richemont board since 2000. Out, too, will be Lord Ren­wick of Clifton, 80, who joined the board in 1995, and six other white male el­ders, in­clud­ing such Richemont warhorses as for­mer CEOS Richard Lepeu (65), Nor­bert Platt and Bernard For­nas (both 70).

e eight rep­re­sent more than one-third of Richemont’s 21-per­son board. It’s a big change. But the an­nounce­ment in May by Richemont Chair­man and largest share­holder Jo­hann Ru­pert that the group will step down was not a big sur­prise. e sur­prise came last Novem­ber, when Ru­pert, him­self a white male of ad­vanced years (66), told fi­nan­cial an­a­lysts, “I want to see less gray-haired men and less gray-haired French­men [on the board]. We have too few women and not enough di­ver­sity, not enough Asians or Amer­i­cans.”

So Ru­pert is shak­ing up the board. ere will be nine new mem­bers. Four are ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors cur­rently work­ing in the group: Ge­orges Kern, head of the Spe­cial­ized Watch­mak­ers di­vi­sion; Jérôme Lam­bert, head of oper­a­tions; Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Ar­pels; and Burkhardt Grund, the new CFO. ey don’t bring any di­ver­sity: All are white, Euro­pean males. But they do rep­re­sent gen­er­a­tional change. All but Kern are un­der 50 years old.

e di­ver­sity comes with the five non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors. Two are women, two are Asian, and one is a South African Mil­len­nial. e women are Dr. Keyu Jin and Dr. Vesta Ne­vis­tic. ey join South African Maria Ramos, cur­rently the only fe­male on the board. Jin is an econ­o­mist born in Bei­jing and ed­u­cated in the United States. Her ar­eas of ex­per­tise are in­ter­na­tional fi­nance and the Chi­nese econ­omy. Ne­vis­tic was born in Croatia. Her PHD is in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing; she is a spe­cial­ist in cor­po­rate strat­egy and re­struc­tur­ing.

Nikesh Aurora, 49, was born in In­dia and stud­ied in the U.S. He was an ex­ec­u­tive with Google from 2004 to 2014 and be­came pres­i­dent and CEO of Softbank, the Japanese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany. He brings deep knowl­edge of the In­ter­net, me­dia oper­a­tions, and in­ter­na­tional busi­ness.

So, too, does Clay Brendish, a Bri­tish ex­ec­u­tive who founded Ad­mi­ral plc in 1979. At 69, he is not part of the youth move­ment, but he has spent his ca­reer in the all-im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try.

Also join­ing the board is An­ton Ru­pert, 29, Jo­hann Ru­pert’s son and heir, whose ex­per­tise is in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and web-based com­merce. Ru­pert père says that when he phones his son, An­ton an­swers “tech sup­port.” An­ton Ru­pert and Aurora “are close bud­dies,” Ru­pert se­nior says. “When we three are to­gether, it is like they look at each other and they say, ‘Now how are we go­ing to ex­plain to this guy what’s re­ally go­ing on?’” at, in short, ex­plains why Ru­pert is re­or­ga­niz­ing his board: He needs peo­ple who know what’s re­ally go­ing on.

What’s go­ing on is “mas­sive change,” as Ru­pert puts it, to the lux­ury watch in­dus­try (see “Richemont’s Ru­pert: ‘Ev­ery­thing is Chang­ing’ in the Feb­ru­ary 2017 is­sue). With watches – the group’s most im­por­tant prod­uct – down 15 per­cent in the fis­cal year ended in March, Ru­pert is rush­ing to pre­pare Richemont for a very dif­fer­ent fu­ture. “e change that’s go­ing to come in the next 10 years – it’s ex­po­nen­tial change,” he told fi­nan­cial an­a­lysts in May. “So when you look at our board, you will see that we’re get­ting skill sets in that, hope­fully, can cope with the pace of change. Folks, we’re see­ing such rapid change and we bet­ter be ahead of that curve. So, our goal is to po­si­tion Richemont that we’re ahead of curves.”

Ru­pert is mod­ern­iz­ing Richemont’s man­age­ment, too. is year he ap­pointed the first fe­male CEO to head one of its 11 watch and jew­elry “maisons,” Chabi Nouri, 43, at Pi­aget. To Amer­i­can eyes, these ra­tios (three women out of 21 on the board, one of 11 in top man­age­ment) seem small. But re­mem­ber that Richemont is based in Switzer­land, where women did not get the right to vote in fed­eral elec­tions un­til 1971!

at’s the drama and the dan­ger for to­day’s Swiss watch in­dus­try: Change is com­ing swiftly to an in­dus­try that changes slowly.

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