BACK IN THE GAME

Hav­ing moved from IWC to Bre­itling, CEO Ge­orges Kern aims to re­ju­ve­nate the brand with fresh de­signs and a retro-in­dus­trial im­age that will ap­peal to a broader mar­ket.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Time - By CELINE YAP

When the news broke last July of Ge­orges Kern de­part­ing IWC for Bre­itling, it was all the haute hor­logerie in­tel­li­gentsia could talk about. Kern had spent 18 years at the Richemon­towned firm. When ap­pointed CEO of IWC in 2002, he was 36 and the youngest CEO within the Group. He led the brand from an ob­scure haute hor­logerie man­u­fac­ture to a global sym­bol of modern lux­ury. Fol­low­ing a man­age­ment reshuf­fle in 2017, he be­came head of watch­mak­ing, mar­ket­ing and dig­i­tal for the Group. He ex­ited Richemont in July the same year, and shortly af­ter joined CVC Cap­i­tal Part­ners in tak­ing up own­er­ship of Bre­itling.

Un­der Kern, over the six months from Au­gust 2017 to Jan­uary 2018, Bre­itling went through sev­eral changes. Key man­age­ment po­si­tions were filled and prod­uct lines trimmed, with more change in the off­ing. That Kern and his team man­aged to launch a new col­lec­tion within this time frame is ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Named Nav­itimer 8, this new time­piece links a page from Bre­itling’s his­tory to cur­rent trends. It’s a prod­uct that Kern be­lieves will cen­tre the com­pany and steer it to­wards moder­nity, while the iconic Nav­itimer 1 re­mains the tech­ni­cal avi­a­tor’s watch. Pro­ject­ing con­fi­dence in the com­pany’s strong legacy, Kern is bullish about growth, par­tic­u­larly in the Asian mar­kets.

What’s the main driver be­hind your de­ci­sion to po­si­tion Bre­itling as an ap­proach­able lux­ury brand?

The con­sumer has changed and will change even more. Young peo­ple are look­ing for some­thing else, an­other sto­ry­telling, an­other ap­proach in bou­tiques … but no­body has it. We’re the only one with an ap­proach­able con­cept in terms of aes­thet­ics, de­sign, ad­ver­tis­ing, prod­uct. I’ve been in the in­dus­try for many years, seen many brands and made mis­takes. I’ve also re­gret­ted stuff I haven’t done. Now I can bring to the brand my ex­pe­ri­ence and ideas I couldn’t im­ple­ment be­fore.

How much of what you’re do­ing now rep­re­sents the true Ge­orges Kern?

Of course there’s a lot of your soul in a brand you’re head­ing. If you’re lucky, this soul is a big com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in the mar­ket. I think ev­ery­thing we’re do­ing is com­mer­cial and ap­peal­ing to a broader pub­lic, and this is what it should be.

What was the first thing you did as CEO of Bre­itling?

Launch a classic pi­lot’s watch. We have a strong bal­ance sheet with pi­lot’s watches yet we don’t have a classic one in our port­fo­lio. It was ob­vi­ous we were miss­ing the mass ap­peal type of prod­uct. Next, I changed the ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign which I found was a lit­tle tacky. And fi­nally the bou­tiques.

Speak­ing of bou­tiques, in this pro-dig­i­tal econ­omy, would lux­ury watch bou­tiques be­come ir­rel­e­vant even­tu­ally?

We’ll launch huge ini­tia­tives in dig­i­tal but what we truly need to be is omni- chan­nel. This means you can buy in all the chan­nels be­cause peo­ple have dif­fer­ent habits in terms of con­sum­ing and learn­ing about the prod­uct. Bou­tiques will house the widest range of prod­ucts and tell the story. Then you have

Bre­itling went through sev­eral changes.

your whole­sale part­ners. And then you have e- com­merce. To­day’s cus­tomers don’t care where they buy as long as the ex­pe­ri­ence is seam­less.

Are peo­ple ready to spend thou­sands on a watch on­line?

Oh yes. As long as you can have the ex­pe­ri­ence off­line in the bou­tique, then you buy when you feel it’s the right mo­ment. Think about it. What’s hap­pen­ing to­day? Ama­zon is go­ing off­line. You buy Ap­ple stuff on­line but peo­ple love go­ing into an Ap­ple store. To me the big­gest in­ter­est­ing move is re­ally Ama­zon’s. I’ve been in an Ama­zon book­store and it is amaz­ing.

What are you go­ing to make for Bre­itling col­lec­tors?

We’re go­ing to have reed­i­tions (that are) very close to the orig­i­nal. I have a list of 20 re-edi­tions I’d like to do. We have such a rich his­tory and we want to con­nect. The funny thing I dis­cov­ered is that vin­tage Bre­itling col­lec­tors are dif­fer­ent from the modern own­ers. When I was ap­pointed, lots of peo­ple wrote to me on so­cial me­dia, hun­dreds of mes­sages: “please make smaller watches”, “make classic watches”, “stop crowded di­als”, etc. prod­ucts? Some guys tell me this (Nav­itimer 8 Chrono) is not a Nav­itimer, it doesn’t have a slide rule. That’s nor­mal. It’s like the Porsche 911. There are fans of the 911 and when Porsche says we’re go­ing to make a Cayenne, the hard-core guys will say you’re killing the brand. But 10 years later the Cayenne is sell­ing much more than the 911. When you change things, you have th­ese re­ac­tions. So for­get ex­tremes. For­get the five per cent shout­ing here and the five per cent com­plain­ing there. Con­cen­trate on the 90 per cent of the mar­ket.

Do you find your work here sim­i­lar to when you started at IWC?

No be­cause the brands are po­si­tioned at to­tally dif­fer­ent fields. Bre­itling is at a dif­fer­ent price point while be­ing rooted in avi­a­tion, with no haute hor­logerie back­ground. I’m go­ing into the to­tal weight of the brand in any brand I’m deal­ing with, what the to­tal body is, not just one

part or two. It’s like cy­clists. Cy­clists have only leg mus­cles but as a hu­man be­ing you need to be bal­anced all over.

Did you no­tice that sev­eral brands around the in­dus­try have launched highly com­mer­cial col­lec­tions?

We are spot on with­out be­ing un­faith­ful to our­selves. Many peo­ple will go down I agree and prob­a­bly too much down. Our ex­am­ple, the Sky Racer which I’m stop­ping. This is where I think we made a mis­take. I agree many other brands are go­ing too low at their level. This is im­age dam­ag­ing. We have to be care­ful. That’s why I’m also stop­ping the Chrono Colt in quartz. I want to be com­pet­i­tive in my seg­ment where I have the cred­i­bil­ity and ac­cep­tance. Ev­ery brand has to be in the right seg­ment and ac­cep­tance in its own cat­e­gory.

What’s your dig­i­tal strat­egy for China since this mar­ket isn’t on the same plat­form as ev­ery­one else? You’re prac­ti­cally an in­flu­encer but on In­sta­gram the Chi­nese con­sumer won’t be able to fol­low you.

Al­most 25,000 fol­low­ers so far! In e- com­merce we’ll have two plat­forms, an in­ter­na­tional one ex­clud­ing China, and an­other for China. We’ll also have sep­a­rate so­cial me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels and in­flu­encer strate­gies. But you know what, I don’t care be­cause China is 50 per cent of the mar­ket and the rest of the world is 50 per cent. www.bre­itling.com ≠

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