Thursday, January 12, 2017

Zenith, Biver and the Future - An Interview

With the news that Zenith was going to be overseen by Jean-Claude Biver there was no shortage of speculation as to what would happen.  And in fairness, we won't know for awhile.  Having said that, I thought the thing that most reporters would do is actually, I don't know, ask some questions ; )

And Mr. Biver was kind enough to answer them.  So here is yet another few minutes with Jean-Claude Biver -

Courtesy of Zenith

Tempus Fugit - A few years ago we spoke about your intention to fully retire after helping to guide, teach and train the next group of leaders for the LVMH group that you are now responsible for. Is that still the roll you see yourself in?    

Jean-Claude Biver - Yes, during the following 7 years, till I am 75, my role will still be to give back as much as possible of my experience and knowledge.  And to discover new and emerging talents in my brands and the Watch Division and to grow them to become leaders.

TF - Zenith is a brand that is beloved by many (this writer included!), but one that has frequently continued to baffle both fans and those of us who write about watches.  From your perspective, what exactly is Zenith?  If Hublot is about fusion (among other things), what is "Zenith-saisquoi"?

JCB - Zenith is Art, Tradition, Culture and above all Zenith produces real and authentic "museum quality" at a price that is still affordable.  It is ESSENTIAL that we keep these qualities alive as they all belong to the more than 150 years of Zenith's DNA.  We are here not just to run a company, but we are also here to serve the history and DNA of the brand.  The main task and challenge is to protect our tradition, but at the same time to find the right and harmonic way to move some of this tradition into the future. All of this with extreme respect to the DNA.

TF - For many of us, the big birthday/anniversary of Zenith never really happened.  There was not much in the way of communication coming out, and (if I am honest) a bit of a "deer in the headlights" approach to both product and the communication of it.  Are we being unfair in this view? 

JCB - Yes, it never really happened and one can regret that we missed this anniversary.  But very soon there will be the anniversary of the first designs and studies of the El Primero which started somewhere in 1967.  And I don’t want to miss this anniversary this year.

TF - You have a pretty much perfect batting average so far in either creating or reinvigorating watch brands.  Zenith is, for better or worse, one of those brands that has appeared to lurch from one identity to the next while never being nurtured along to realize it's full potential.  What do you feel is a realistic time frame to turn Zenith in the right direction?

JCB - We will bring Zenith back to its DNA and back to where it belongs within 3 years. That’s our goal and its also the target and pressure I am putting not only on the next CEO, but also on myself.

TF - Several folks believe (rightly or wrongly) that when Zenith was most viable was not when it was making watches at the current price points, or during the Nataf "era", but rather when it was making more affordable watches - and more specifically when Zenith was providing movements to other brands such as Concord, a little independent company called Rolex, and others.  Realizing that several brands have developed their own movement making capabilities, would you ever see it profitable/advisable for Zenith to again offer movements to other brands?

JCB - That has always been the problem with brands like Blancpain or Zenith.  When the brand has had so much success with its movements it has never had to develop too much its own complete brand.  It’s a problem that we had to solve in 1982 when we took over Blancpain, and now some 34 years later I am facing a similar problem with Zenith.

TF - While partnerships and ambassadors are  now an expected component of marketing/PR for many brands (Hublot and Tag Heuer for example), does Zenith fit that same mold?  I ask because some partnerships - such as the Rolling Stones, seem a bit discordant.  

JCB - I still believe that the one of the best ambassadors of Zenith is the Art of Zenith, its Tradition and its Culture. Which does not mean Zenith won't have other ambassadors or partnerships.  But for sure one could say that "Zenith could be the ambassador of Zenith".  It's the brand of people who trust themselves, its the brand of confidence and its the brand when you want to show that you are not a follower, but a leader.

TF - What are the biggest opportunities for Zenith?

JCB - Its Tradition, its Culture, its Art, its History, its Knowledge, its Skills and its DNA.

TF - What are the biggest challenges?

JCB - I see seven interesting challenges:

  • How do I make history again and not just repeat history! 
  • How do I keep my DNA, how do I stay faithful to my history when I know I still have to move forward and cannot just repeat it
  • How do I communicate when I have to stay understated, sophisticated and elegant
  • How to create, to produce and to manage  "less is more"
  • How to become the leader of  "accessible" Haute Horlogerie 
  • How do I master "invisible visibility"
  • How do I seduce and how do I communicate to the new generation

TF - While it might not yet be clear WHO should be the next steward of Zenith, WHAT qualities should that person have?

JCB - I believe that he should be able understand and love the 7 challenges. Needs to be courageous, patient and be a hard worker. He needs to love and respect both the watchmakers and the retailers. He must be close, very close, extremely close to the market and the watch community. Must understand that the King is the brand and he has to respect and serve the King. And last but not least he must be both humble and creative.

It should be an interesting 3 years! 

Stay tuned!


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