Friday, January 17, 2020

The Arceau Squelette

Hermès Horloger
Courtesy of Hermes
Here are the pertinents -

Type: Mechanical self-winding, crafted in Switzerland Functions: Hours, minutes

Shape/Size: Round, 40 mm in diameter Material: Steel
Water resistance: 3 bar

Dial in gradient-shaded black sapphire, transparent in the centre.
Silvered Arabic numerals.

Black alligator Graphite alligator Abyss blue alligator Havana alligator Étoupe alligator

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What David Epstein Could Teach the Watch Industry

I first heard of David Epstein on Dave Chang's 
podcast - The Dave Chang Show.  And the fact that I first got dialed into Mr. Epstein's thoughts on the value of generalization over specialization.  I have dipped into his book - Range:  Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

Courtesy of Macmillan
And I feel it was particularly appropriate to learn about Mr. Epstein's work on a podcast that is, ostensibly, about about food and food culture.

My main takeaway from the podcast and the bits I've been able to digest directly is that not unlike Bob Dylan's message that the "the loser nowWill be later to win", the times are indeed A- Changin'.

Now for my part, I probably really got my start on the periphery, as a fan, participating on a limited basis in discussion forums.  I then stumbled into a job at Tourneau in San Francisco, and later with DOXA. A blog led to a media business which led to a consulting concern that touches on sales, marketing, media, production, and on and on.  So it's fair to say, this speaks to me.  

So gentle readers, allow me to share with you what the watch industry could learn from David Epstein -

“Overspecialization can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.”
David Epstein

I see this a lot in the watch business and saw it painfully so with two former darlings of the business who collapsed less than three years from their first products were delivered to the public. But it goes deeper than this and in fairness to the former Kronaby and Klokers, both of these brands were led by people with experience in consumer products. And in fact, you can see it in the brands that have been through some particularly rough waters.  GP, UN, Eterna are wonderful brands that in the past have suffered from "Silo Syndrome".  Essentially that they were staffed with a bunch of specialists who were discouraged from collaborating.  While it is tempting to tell people to "stick to their lane" when you feel the sole of a foot on your toes, it might, in fact, be worth a listen.

“We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” 
David Epstein

What I'm about to say is going to sound mean, and it is not meant to.  It is easy to say that a leopard can't change its spots, and I think that is a gross misunderstanding that people, particularly in the watch business have.  Some of the sharpest operators in the industry also keep the lowest profile. As mentioned here before, it's inevitable to fail. The trick is not to make a habit of it.  And failure offers a wealth of lessons. Some of these lessons can be highly personal, where we need to examine how we handled various situations and how we might have done things differently. 

Put another way, words are great, mottos are great, and a good looking CV is just that.    Now, how then do we explain the serial recycling of executives, sales reps, PR firms from one brand to the next and back again?  It actually goes back to overspecialization.  What Moneyball referred to as the "look test".  In essence, only "baseball people" could understand the game and how to work within it.  And what Bill James, Billy Beane and others proved is that just wasn't so.  

And the watch business is unique in the short memories it instills in many of its gatekeepers.  People who entered the industry from others quickly forget that fact when they start running a brand.  Suddenly, only "watch people" (i.e. industry veterans) can possibly understand what it takes.  And as history will show, these folks were then cycled through and spit out of the formal industry, and those who managed to remain had to create their own opportunities.  Which either proves their own misguided theories, or shows that they were, perhaps, victims of over specialization.

“You have people walking around with all the knowledge of humanity on their phone, but they have no idea how to integrate it. We don’t train people in thinking or reasoning.”
David Epstein

I am actually pretty grateful for this, because otherwise I would not have 
clients ; )

This actually comes back to the "Silo Syndrome". Being an expert is great, but unless you can see the bigger picture, it is increasingly harder to adapt to it. As brands continue to contract in size and need to become more nimble, the ability to think outside of your cubicle becomes more and more essential.

“Almost none of the students in any major showed a consistent understanding of how to apply methods of evaluating truth they had learned in their own discipline to other areas.” 
David Epstein

See above.

“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization” 
David Epstein

So let's talk about brand management. Typically, brand managers are promoted through the ranks of the sales department. It makes sense on a lot of levels, no sales means not brand. But even at a regional level, let's say North America, you need to have the flexibility to weigh in on all aspects of the operation. I can't tell you how many meetings I have been to where the brand manager will pass the buck by saying things like -

"Oh, that's marketing. You'll have to talk to...".

This is not to say that you should not have department heads, and people with responsibilities. But really that conversation should go more like this -

"Oh, let's (collaboratively) talk about this with the marketing team..."

What currently happens in a lot of brands is a fundamental disconnect from certain functions that they either feel uncomfortable with or are disinterested with. Say what you want about him, but Jean-Claude Biver was perhaps the first (and still one of the only) brand manager/brand leader/CEOs who made a point of involving himself beyond just sales. Towards the end of his tenure that trailed off, but there was a time where I suspect Hublot was an extension of his central nervous system.

“As each man amassed more information for his own view, each became more dogmatic, and the inadequacies in their models of the world more stark.” 
David Epstein

Too many examples to site.  

“In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.” 
David Epstein

It is important to have a centralized plan for a global brand.  But there needs to be an understanding of locality/reality.  Simple example - F1 is, by and large, not a thing in the US, no matter how much a brand would like it to be, it just isn't.  Neither is rugby.  If we're very honest, neither is sailing, neither is Chinese language cinema.  And yet, I keep getting press releases about partnerships like this.  

And an even starker example could be found at the SWATCH group and the ETA/COMCO fiasco. When you do not consider the possibility that things just might not go your way?  It can be fatal.

Rest assured, ETA is not going out of business, and I have no doubt that some agreement/accommodation will eventually be reached. But in the here and now, several of ETA's more well-heeled customers are having to lump it, and if the word around the campfires in the Jura are to be believed, some loyalists might be looking for a new camp to call home.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Winter Repeat - What I've Learned

I first ran this a little less than two years ago and it seemed a good time to air it out again.

What I've Learned

Despite some pretty dubious watch coverage, I still really enjoy Esquire and I am a big fan of their "What I've Learned" interview segments.  So given some recent interactions I've had both in person and online, and considering that if I count back to when I first stepped behind the counter at Tourneau in San Francisco, I've been "in the game" for 15 years now, I thought it might be fun to put out my own "What I've Learned" piece.  So, gentle reader, here is some of what 
I've learned -

For some outlets, nothing is ever really free.

Now in fairness, people who write about watches are largely divided into two groups:
Those who do it out of passion alone, and those who do it for a living.  Quick note, nothing 
wrong with doing it for a living.  Of the second group, some do it for a living, but are still
passionate about what they do, and actually consider writing about a watch, a brand, 
a watch maker WITHOUT asking for payment (be it advertising, sponsored posts, outright payola) 
first.  For those of your out there in the marketing departments - if your going to spend
marketing money, then spend it on people out there writing about things that they
are passionate about, not just what they are being paid for.

While it is true that Hayek saved the Swiss Watch industry, Jean-Claude Biver would have still kicked ass with Blancpain and would have lived happily ever after either way.

I was there before Hublot became what they would become.  
I am still here now that it is a somewhat bumbling PR gas factory that, apparently, also makes watches.  Although I know that I have the ability to highly irritate him, I have a great deal of respect for Jean-Claude Biver.  But now is the time to start thinking about legacy.  About what happens when he is no longer there.  Jean-Claude Biver is a very, very impressive man.  He has done some very amazing things. Here's hoping it doesn't get washed away.

When a brand manager or CEO asks you "How are you my friend?"  The translation of that is - "how you doing, asshole?"

Brand managers, CEOs, PR people?  By and large, they are not your friends. No offense intended to brand managers, CEOs or PR people ; ). But be honest with yourself, you're not likely to be invited to their kid's wedding. Don't delude yourself to the contrary.  You might get lucky with a few - and I have, but the true friends will reveal themselves over time, and they are the ones you should always make time for at BaselWorld.

Having said all that - sometimes you will, despite your compulsion to serve up cold cups of coffee, find some true friends and supporters in some very unexpected places.

You will learn to see when people are genuine.  Hold onto those people like a non-treatable social disease.  They have every reason to dislike you based on what you write or say, and yet they are your audience.  And they are your friends indeed.

Rich, famous, important people - are a lot less interesting when you finally meet them.

Little known piece of Henki lore, my father was a country club manager.  Translation?  He worked so that the more well-heeled could play.  I worked in the locker room of the club, my first job working as a shoe shine guy.  Believe it or not, in the 70s and 80s, there was an actual industry based upon shining the shoes of rich people while they walked around a park-like environment, drinking beer and whacking small white balls.  Rich people, famous people?  They are people.  George Steinbrenner was a titan of industry and master manipulator.  I can tell you from personal experience, his shoes smelled just as awful as an orthodontist, dermatologist or mid-level auto executive's.   The one thing all four of these guys had in common?  They were shitty tippers.

I have met some of the big swinging dicks of the industry.  It is all too often underwhelming.

When anyone tells you how amazing you are and how "just as soon as you take advertising, we're in!"  this person should be taken with about as much seriousness as you would take the drunk person asking for $3 on the commuter train so that they can "buy a healthy snack".

We all say a lot of highly dubious stuff when we've been drinking.  That's why your wife/husband/partner learns over the years to apply the bullshit filter.  Make sure you do the same, it will spare you a fair amount of frustration and disappointment.

When you have made it clear by your actions, your writing, and your passion that you are predisposed to write nice things about a brand, and said brand treats you with a fair amount of indifference?  Take it on the heel and toe.  Love needs to be reciprocal.

I am still somewhat miffed by my interaction with a certain member of the SWATCH group.  I gave up a Thanksgiving holiday, spent several hundred dollars of my own money to interview their CEO, and then watched as the outlet that they were on retainer with got so-called "exclusives", review opportunities, etc., and I got the cold shoulder.   To this day, I have no doubt that the North American brand manager of SWATCH GROUP brand X just thinks that I am a difficult person.  But in fairness?  If someone is willing to give you so much for NOTHING?  You can spare a little time and a little effort.  And for what it's worth?  In speaking with retail partners of SWATCH GROUP brand X, they are not exactly selling like the waffle's sexier cousin - the hotcake.

Brands are made up of people.  The brand does not exist without the people.  If a brand has good people - I will do ALL that I can.  If a brand has people that just don't care?  Why should I care about them?

I get the odd comment - "I thought you were a fan of Brand A".  Well, I have come to learn that brands are made of people.  It's not as if the founders of Girard-Perregaux are going to make a special appearance in the physical world to tour me around the factory.  The brand?  The brand is the people who work there.  So put it in another context - do you like spending time with people who treat you poorly?  Of course you don't.  Molly Ringwald's entire career was based on this notion.  A watch is an inanimate object.  It can't speak for itself.  A brand is not simply products.  A brand is the people who make those products, and share that message.   

Brand ambassadors are about as worthwhile as what you wipe your backside with.

There is a reason why Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot are not mentioned as customers of Brand X.  

Churchill, Napoleon, Lindbergh?  All flawed, all now "ambassadors" from the great beyond.  Well, they won, didn't they? They were all flawed, all had baggage. But they are a whole lot more palatable.  

Question - do you think that the Mario Batali Ernst Benz is a big seller right now?  

Sorry, too soon? 

A brand ambassador will not be there with you when they turn out the lights and escort you out of your now former office.  A former brand that was "ALL IN" can attest to that.

Remember everyone you meet when times are good.  You will see them again on your way back down.  

It is inevitable to fail.  The trick is not to make a habit of it.  More importantly?  Don't be a jackass when times are good.  Sooner or later, it is likely you will fail.  By and large, most of us want to help people and offer our support.  That is, of course, presuming that person behaved, well, like a person when times were good ; )

Don't fake the funk 

Because in the immortal words of that other great commentator on the watch industry Daryl Dawkins:
“When everything is said and done there is nothing left to do or say.”