Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Reruns - a Few Minutes with Peter Stas

As I am in the middle of the Alpina review, it seemed like a good time to re-heat this one from last August.

From very uncertain beginnings, Peter Stas and his wife Aletta have nurtured Frederique Constant from its birth, growing it into one of the watch world's serious players in a very short time.  And now, a few minutes with Peter Stas -
Courtesy of Frederique Constant

James Henderson: What was your first watch? Was it a gift? Is there a story behind it? 

Peter Stas: It was a Seiko Diver that I received when I was 12.  It was gift for my birthday. 

JH: When you were a boy, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

PS: I wanted to live abroad, and see the world.

JH - Where did you go to school? What did you study?

PS - Primary School was in Reeuwijk, in the Netherlands.  My Secondary School was in Gouda.  And finally Rotterdam's Erasmus University where I completed both my BA & MA in Business Economics. 

JH - What was your last job before entering the watch industry?

PS - I was the General Manager of Tapes & Accessories in the Asia-Pacific region for Philips Electronics.

JH - What got you started in the watch business in the first place?

PS - Passion! I had been interested in watches, and one day walking around town and looking in shop windows, I could not find a watch that really appealed to me. That was probably where the idea was born.

JH - What were the early days like at Frederique Constant?

PS - Working hard, hard, hard! In the beginning it was me and my wife, working in Hong Kong, with a very small amount of support from a team in Switzerland. 

JH - Can you think back on a time when you really questioned whether or not it would all work out?

PS- Sure, many times in the early years. 

I do recall when we first moved to Switzerland, this was in 1997.  I had left a large well-established company (Phillips) to run a company that had a fairly small turnover - 12 million Swiss Francs, so nearly every month was a search for new orders!  We needed the new orders to be sure that we would be around at the end of the month and able to meet payroll. This was a clear change - to establish ourselves in Switzerland without external support.

Another turning point was in 2000 when we examined the possibility of making our own caliber (movement). We were warned against doing it - it took 4 years to get the first hand wound hour/minute caliber.  We worked with a university and local watch making schools in our efforts - it was really a collaborative effort - but it worked out.

JH - You've had a fair amount of successes with both Frederique Constant and Alpina. Is there any one achievement that stands out above all of the others?

PS - It is our team! The hiring and development of top people in our company has been, and continues to be a huge point of pride for us. 
Courtesy of Frederique Contant 
JH - I realize that it might be hard to choose, but what would your favorite "child" (watch model) be?

PS - Frederique Constant's NEW FC-718 Classics Manufacture Worldtimer.

JH - Alpina came after Frederique Constant, what were some of the challenges you faced when taking on a second brand?

PS - Yes, it's not easy to give two brands enough attention at the same time. When we acquired Alpina in 2002 there were only 3 people still working there - the administrator, an accountant, and the lawyer.  When we acquired the company, our first step was to move the company to Geneva.  From that point we started to build the company from scratch, and those three people left.  We were not interested in administrators, we were interested in building a watch company.

JH - And what a lot of people don't realize is that there is a third brand in your portfolio? 

PS - Yes -Ateliers deMonaco is the third brand and our latest little baby: High-end complications from Monaco. This was a great opportunity for internal growth within Frederique Constant. We had profoundly talented watch makers looking for opportunities to stretch and grow.

One watch maker came forward and said that he had been offered the possibility to launch his own company with an equity share. I met with a friend from another company and completely different industry - P&G and we brainstormed on the ski slopes, discussing the possibilities of taking this idea and creating opportunities for our more advanced watch makers. Could we do it? How would we do it? Those questions were answerable. And finally, if we did it, then where should this new company be? Monaco was where we settled on, so the idea was that it could be a possibility to have the company still in the group, but with some autonomy and its own identity.

Ateliers deMonaco has offered that opportunity. Now our master watch makers can really tune into challenges, developing tourbillons and other complications. We started working on this in April 2009 and it has truly been a bit of a watch making lab formed by these talented people from inside the company during their free time, working on minute repeaters, tourbillons, etc. 

Since introducing the brand, we have grown to a point where we are currently selling almost 100 pieces. However,the idea of a minute repeater was so expensive that I had to put my foot down!

The goal is to produce 60 - 70 pieces per year - this allows the company members the opportunity to see and learn how to reach these unique customers. Ateliers deMonaco is not necessarily set-up to build revenue, but rather as a personal development for a group in our company. 

JH - While Holland is a hotbed of watch culture, there haven't been too many watch executives. How has it been adapting to life in Switzerland - any culture clashes?

PS - Adapting to life in Hong Kong was perhaps more daunting. Coming to Switzerland after living in Asia was perhaps an easier transition. Frederique Constant is a worldwide watch brand, requiring that I travel to over 30 countries each year. That makes it interesting. 

JH - If you weren't working in the watch industry, what would it be?

PS - When I was with Phillips, and with the office in Hong Kong scheduled to close, I was asked to possibly go to Palo Alto, California and work in the digital area.  So I guess that working in the consumer products area could be a possibility.

Another product I could see myself being involved in the boating business - specifically designing and manufacturing the gentleman's "runabout" boat. This type of boat is a classically designed and very interesting product. 

JH - Why boats? 

PS - I started sailing as a kid in the Netherlands. When we moved to Switzerland I was happy to have the opportunity to get boat again. However, the lake in Geneva enjoys a significant lack of wind on the water! I decided to get a runabout boat as it was better suited to the conditions. My first boat was in such poor condition that I had to go to a newer boat.

JH - What do you like to do in your spare time?

PS - Sailing, boating and reading

JH - Who is the next Peter Stas out there? 

PS - I really don't know....BUT - and I have just realized this recently - my son is working in a lot of the communication areas within the company. He is not as entrepreneurial as his dad, but I am constantly fascinated by his talents.  He is quite a bit more scientific and technical than I am.  And he is quite creative, writing articles about the brands that show a keen depth of understanding.  I am also surprised by the quality and types of articles he has written - quite surprising in that he is only 16.

In terms of others in the field, I personally admire Babbin of Tag Heuer. With his management of the last 15 years I admire how he has consistently built success for Tag Heuer.

JH - And what advice would you have for someone getting started in the watch industry?

PS - Start with a beautiful product!

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