Out with The Old … —
The Duke of Wellington, 72, is out at the Richemont Group. Ms. Keyu Jin, PHD, 34, is in.
— 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.