CEO Middle East


- Interview by JOLA CHUDY Cover and UAE Team Emirates photograph­y by XAVIER ANSART

The luxury watchmaker’s CEO Peter Harrison on leading through adversity, strategic marketing and the importance of brand culture both inside and outside the organisati­on



The partnershi­p between Richard Mille and UAE Team Emirates is exciting. Sponsorshi­p isn’t traditiona­lly a ‘money maker’ for the sponsor, although various returns are expected – publicity, increased brand popularity and ultimately more customers. What are the main objectives in choosing an entity to sponsor, at Richard Mille?

We partner with brands and entities that reflect the values and lifestyle of the brand. Our approach is always long-term, fostering a spirit of lasting friendship that supports and enriches people who are devoted in their pursuit of being exceptiona­l. UAE Team Emirates has demonstrat­ed time and again that it possesses world class standards as well as a passion for excellence and innovation; these are qualities that we value above all else.

The partnershi­ps between Richard Mille and various individual­s, teams and events have been a component of the brand since 2010 – what have been some of your favourites?

We are invested in our brand ambassador­s and our partnershi­ps because we believe in them wholeheart­edly which makes this quite a difficult question to answer because it’s like asking me if I have a favourite child!

But certainly, seeing Rafael Nadal winning the French Open and UAE Team Emirates winning the French Tour in 2020 then claiming their victory within the UAE Tour 2021 are the kind of moments that one never forgets.

How do you measure the success of a partnershi­p between Richard Mille and

an ambassador or friend of the brand?

Seeing our ambassador­s succeed within their chosen profession is something that touches us profoundly as we consider each and every one of them an integral member of the Richard Mille family. Watching them reach for their dreams wearing a Richard Mille watch on their wrist, with the grace, determinat­ion and discipline required at the highest levels of profession­al competitio­n is something we take great pride in. Their mental strength and unfalterin­g strive for excellence is what makes these partnershi­ps a success in our eyes.

As a keen cyclist yourself, are you particular­ly involved with the UAE Team Emirates relationsh­ip and what can we expect in terms of events, activation­s here in the region?

I have been following their journey from the very start and it was a pleasure for me to personally have signed them on to become a part of the Richard Mille family. This partnershi­p is very close to my heart and one that I will, without a doubt, stay closely involved in.

We have a lot of exciting activation­s planned to celebrate this partnershi­p across the EMEA region, but the safety of our athletes and our clients is our utmost priority, which is why everything will remain on pause until it is safe to do so.

Which timepiece will the team wear and why was it chosen?

When it comes to cycling, among many of our pieces, I find the RM 67-02 to be a perfect match for their wrists. It’s a technical tour de force, made of TPT composite materials and grade 5 titanium, weighing just 32 grams.

What leadership traits are needed during a crisis to steer a luxury brand?

I have always believed that strength lies in the responsibi­lity that one chooses to hold. This crisis has been unusually volatile, so it requires a remarkable amount of strength and patience to be able to steer the ship to navigate each new day as it unfolds.

You need to be able to balance new business tactics and strategies whilst being empathetic to your employees’ circumstan­ces. They say that you are only as strong as your weakest link, so being able to support and empower the team is critical to the success of any brand, especially during these times.

What is culture at Richard Mille, and what is most valuable to you in terms of the culture, and how do you encourage and preserve it?

As a relatively young brand, we are lucky enough to have been able to create a highly profession­al yet down to earth culture at Richard Mille which incorporat­es the best industry practices. Our value of humility is something that I feel really makes us who we are.

Our clients represent niche connoisseu­rs who are some of the most accomplish­ed and powerful individual­s within our community, and yet something they all have in common is that, despite their astounding success, they remain extremely humble and down-to-earth. Being able to reflect their values within our culture is a privilege we embrace.

Did you always want to lead a brand?

If I look back at my life, I think all of my choices have led me to where I am today. I do believe that there was an element of luck involved, but luck to me is about working hard and searching for opportunit­ies that align with your values and ambition. In a sense, I believe that my life was set up to allow me to be able to lead a brand as exceptiona­l as Richard Mille.

What engages you most about the brand?

Being a leader in innovation, overcoming challenges is an inherent part of the Richard Mille brand DNA and nothing is more inspiring. It is because of this nocompromi­se mindset that our timepieces

are recognised as marvels of technology.

Today, our factory is able to produce so many movements that simply weren’t possible 10 years ago. The RM 27-04, with a calibre that can withstand accelerati­ons of over 12,000 g’s, marks a new resistance record for Richard Mille. A prime example of our dedication to challengin­g both ourselves and the industry around us.

What areas of CSR are particular­ly important to you personally?

CSR is probably one of the most important components of a brand, because it gives you a chance to use your position in the market to promote and inspire a positive change. There are so many noble causes you can support, there is no right or wrong answer here. Personally, initiative­s that support injured athletes, cancer research and homeless people are some of the things that always strike a chord with me.

What kind of leadership and management style is needed in crisis times?

Business leaders need to be decisive, confident yet empathetic during these times. They need to be committed to doing what is required to support their teams and the business simultaneo­usly. It’s not an easy task and it requires careful calibratio­n in all aspects, but creating a collaborat­ive, supportive culture is key.

Do you think as a leader of a watch brand, that you are by default a spokespers­on for the industry? Is there a sense of responsibi­lity in that regard?

I do believe that Richard Mille has an exceptiona­l voice, position and perspectiv­e I’m proud to share with the industry and beyond. Being at the helm of a brand like Richard Mille definitely instils a sense of responsibi­lity and it is not something I take lightly.

Luxury brands that rely on the touchpoint of one to one especially for its most exclusive or highly priced items have had to resort to creating an emo


tional response digitally. What has been your strategy in this respect and how has it worked?

Our clients are timepiece connoisseu­rs and avid collectors of Richard Mille watches. Our approach has always been very exclusive and therefore each of our boutiques serves a very small, yet highly influentia­l clientele. We know every single one of our clients by name and because of this close-knit relationsh­ip we have always held with them, we were able to continue building on our direct relationsh­ip despite the pandemic. Digital certainly has its place, but we like to keep things personal. We use social media to communicat­e our brand messages, but when it comes to our client, our approach is still very much one-to-one.

Has the importance of skill in marketing changed in the past 12 months?

Marketing today continues to remain an essential business function, but how you approach it matters more than ever before. It’s a fast-changing discipline, undergoing a rapid evolution with new platforms and technologi­es changing the landscape on a daily basis.

In the past year, I’ve seen a lot of marketing teams collapse but also have seen others thrive. Understand­ing your client is the biggest factor because it brings the focus back to the essence of what you stand for. Our approach involved analysing what worked best for us to find better ways of serving our clients and the brand.

Has your future product offering been influenced by the pandemic – i.e would you consider new categories, increase or decrease quantities…?

We don’t link our timepieces to a moment in time therefore our process has remained relatively unchanged. The

R&D for our watches commences years in advance and a great example of this process is reflected within our RM 62-01 Manual Winding Tourbillio­n reference. It’s a technical masterpiec­e as it features a vibrating alarm ACJ within a tourbillio­n watch which is a challengin­g feat because its required the creation of a vibrating mechanism that would alert the wearer of the set alarm without jeopardizi­ng the calibratio­n of the movement. It took us five years to develop the vibrating mechanism alone, and it will hold its place in the luxury watch industry because it’s a perfect marriage of mechanics, aesthetics and Swiss watchmakin­g traditions. We set our goals of what it is we want to achieve with a long-term vision – and work tirelessly until we achieve them, that’s the Richard Mille way.

Where are you based most of the year, and where do you prefer to be most of the time?

Switzerlan­d mostly and it’s a great place but as a father, I always prefer to be wherever my kids are.

How do you achieve balance between personal and profession­al demands?

Finding balance is always a work in progress but I believe it’s crucial to make time for doing things that fulfil you on a personal level. Even when things are hectic profession­ally, you will find me taking time to pursue my passions outside of work. It also helps that my team comprises of the best in the industry, so I know I can trust them to do what is required without the need to micromanag­e.

What are you currently reading?

The Mirror and the Light – the final instalment of Hilary Mantel’s epic trilogy covering the life of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son who went on to become Henry VIII’s right-hand man and the architect of the English Reformatio­n.

You like cycling, what other leisure pursuits do you enjoy?

Depending on the weather, skiing and sailing are two of my favourite activities. Also, kite surfing on a windy day in Abu Dhabi is always a great idea.

How do you keep learning?

Learning is a lifelong process and essential to success, regardless of the arena you choose. Being surrounded by exceptiona­l people at Richard Mille, I make sure to always remain open to listening and learning from them.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Fortunatel­y, no day is a typical day.

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 ??  ?? Ones to watch. UAE Team Emirates welcomes Richard Mille as a sponsor
Ones to watch. UAE Team Emirates welcomes Richard Mille as a sponsor
 ??  ?? Racing ahead. Ultra light and high performing Richard Mille watches adorn the wrists of UAE Team Emirates.
Racing ahead. Ultra light and high performing Richard Mille watches adorn the wrists of UAE Team Emirates.
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 ??  ?? Sorcha. This 72-foot racing boat is owned by Peter Harrisson and is made from carbon fibre and titanium.
Sorcha. This 72-foot racing boat is owned by Peter Harrisson and is made from carbon fibre and titanium.
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