Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Family Business

So in fairness, I am once again indebted to the one man who has his finger on the pulse of the inner workings of the watch business, Gregory Pons.  Upon reading an excerpt from Business Montres I reached out to the PR wing of H. Moser and received confirmation that the fairly recently anointed CEO of Hautlence was, in fact, slinging his hook.  And this was delivered with what (if I am being honest) was a rather strong whiff of rosiness that upon reading and considering, really told more about the affairs of the house of Meylan than the brands involved.

Let's look at this from a holistic perspective -
Hautlence, like another star crossed brand, Ladoire, was probably doomed from jump-street.  It was cutting edge, and it was (as we say here in the metro Boston area), WICKED EXPENSIVE!  I have never met Guillaume Tetu, as his PR person at the time did the work of an offensive line to keep me from ever having a face to face conversation, but I have always felt that he had a bit of the spark that makes some brands as interesting as they are.  But I also think that he was on borrowed time.  Sometimes the dream is so powerful that it can blind you from the realities.  And when he sat down at the speed dating table to raise funds, it was a wealthy veteran of the Swiss watch business that was sitting opposite him who agreed to pump in money.

And shortly after that, the man who nursed Hautlence into this world was cast out.  Not to worry, he landed safe and warm in Rupert-land.  But the man who would be king - Sandro Reginelli, has now been sitting in the hot seat for less than two years, and as of today (Thursday, August 31st), he will be having his mail forwarded to the labor board.

And what I find fascinating is the artful language employed by the family that controls both H. Moser and Hautlence to explain it.  So here, in its original form, is the communication I received today confirming that Mr. Reginelli was, in effect, pursuing other professional opportunities as of Friday, September 1st:

As you know, Hautlence belongs to MELB Holding, property of the Meylan family. The structure of this family-owned business is evolving, consolidating around existing synergies. Sandro's departure results from this natural evolution. In a perspective of rationalism and of reinforcement of synergies, Georges-Henri Meylan will take over the position of CEO for Hautlence. 

Now for those of you just tuning in, I teach business English.  And I have absolutely NO IDEA WHAT THE (insert expletive here) that is even supposed to mean.  

But allow me to hypothesize:
1.  We bought these two brands, and frankly, neither one is exactly setting the wold on fire.
2.  We have turfed out the founder, and the one who tried to take up the mantel has also been let go.
3.  We could flush more money down the sink hole, or Mr. Meylan the Elder, can step out of retirement and try to right the ship.
4.  Frankly, hiring yet another CEO would be throwing good money after bad.

Using language that speaks to a natural evolution is a bit fatuous at best.  Mr. Meylan could have taken control any time he wished.  There is nothing natural about this apart from the natural desire of the family that owns both of these brands to try and keep their noses above the water, and to survive.  And that is fair enough, but don't try and guild the lily with talk of synergies...

And to make sure that my feelings are clear - I like Hautlence.  I like Mr. Tetu and what he tried to achieve.  And I am a huge fan of Eric Cantona and feel that he is a great ambassador - and I WAS GUTTED when the Hautlence PR person cancelled my appointment and refused me access to cover the news in person a BaselWorld a few years back.  Just saying, that was a pretty mean thing to do ; ) 
I have questioned Meylan the younger in the past, and if I am honest I am still far from sold on whether or not Moser will live up to the potential, let alone the pr hoopla.  Money goes a long way, but it cannot put in what fate has left out.  My father was a gifted club manager, but the DNA Olympics has not resulted in Hilton calling me up to manage it's portfolio.  And my father was wise enough to know that my heart was in education and teaching, not in being a hotelier with a Cornell diploma.
A family business can be a wonderful thing, and something to be proud of.  But like any other business, it has to have a stable and strong foundation.  I agree that it was a wise decision NOT to hire yet another person to run a struggling brand.  I also think for this family company it is now time to stop suckling on the teat of paid pr, and to try to actually engage with the fourth and fifth estate in a meaningful way.  Time to nut up, or shut up.  With a big enough check you can buy coverage in a few of the big online outlets, and even get the gin blossomed gentlemen who imbibe and discuss discounted watches two or three times a week in secret locations around New York to drink some more and talk about your watch.  But I really wouldn't call that a long-term business plan, or an even remotely wise use of marketing money.

I think Moser and Hautlence could be great - but they will have to want to be seen as great.  And they will have to start being great.
And for what it's worth?  I am eager to be dazzled, impressed, and blown away. 
To the Meylans?  The ball is in your court.


  1. Thanks once again James to point things out the way they are.The market forces will do their automatic cleansing process........

  2. James. Glad to see you muckraking again.. hold their feet to the fire. The son is a sperm club member being indulged by poppy. Swiss cheese watches!?

  3. If a new brand arrives and is not met with success, then it is generally the wrong brand, image, products and prices. No PR money will ever right this ship. The Ladoire and Hautlence watches are technically remarkable, but somehow do not feel appealing to me. Ladoire' image of black widow spiders was bizarre. Hautlence, what is its source of inspiration and story?