Monday, January 21, 2019

Where's Biver?

So I guess this is one of those "what if Paul is dead" type of posts.  But in fact, it's more along the lines of - what if Jean-Claude Biver didn't really retire?

Shamelessly borrowed from the word-wide infoweb
Okay, in fairness I have already placed my bet that Mr. Biver is no more likely to retire than I am to buy a Shinola watch.  For those tuning in late?  Let's just say I am sometimes unable to discern the difference between fecal matter and the time telling products produced under the Shinola banner.

So if we go with the premise that Jean-Claude Biver is, to quote that other great commentator on watch industry - Kool Moe Dee: "Coming back, like Return of the Jedi", there are only a handful of brands that would really fit the ticket.  Although he looked "Tony Robbins Good" in his video interview a few weeks back, we have to accept the fact that he is not in his 40s or 50s anymore.  So where on the Monopoly board would he be likely to land?  Well, news dribbled out from a few sources today that a small family operation based in Geneva might be seeking new ownership, and while he would not be the owner, he might certainly be seen as the lynch pin in a potential purchase.

For a direct report, please have a quick look at this link from 
SwissInfo.CH - 


Now there are those out there who would say that the whole point of Patek Philippe is that it is a family owned brand, privately held, yada yada yada, they would never, ever sell.  Well, maybe not so much.  Let's consider a few of life's less romantic realities -

Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide infoweb
1. Very few people actually want to go on forever. Let's face it, even Sisyphus got worn down from the routine. Sooner or later, if you've been doing something a long enough time, you don't necessarily want to keep pushing that particular boulder up the hill.  Now there are those of you out there who would be scoobied by anyone who wouldn't want to lead the world's most famous watch brand.  But we have to remember that Thierry Stern was for all intents and purposes born into the business.  Nothing wrong with that, but for all we know, he has harbored a secret ambition to paint murals, become a master pastry chef, teach history... hell, maybe even be a ditch-digger.  But these have never really been possibilities.  If his kids are disinterested in following the family path, then who could blame him for looking for a reliable custodian and cashing in his chips while he still has a winning hand?

2.  Very few people actually want to go on forever, but a few do.  A bit of personal Henki history - my father was a bit of a living legend in his particular field of endeavor.  Now to be fair, the field of private club management (country club, city club, private club) is a fairly niche profession, but over the years he managed to cut a pretty wide swath through his chosen area.  He retired a little ahead of the typical age of 65, but went on to run his consulting business until he (quite literally) unexpectedly dropped dead at 71.  For a long time it was a lifestyle choice that I didn't necessarily understand, but looking at Jean-Claude Biver's choices, I see a lot of my father's career track and practises in him.  If we look at the industry, it tends to attract a rather unique "type of dude" and it is safe to say that Mr. Biver now casts a very long, living shadow.  He has done some fairly impressive things, and enjoyed some phenomenal success.  And it is safe to say that he is considered the authority by many.  It is also noteworthy that part of the reason why he has remained engaged is because he has not been at the same place the entire time.  He had his apprenticeship, built Blancpain, moved to Omega, reinvented Hublot, stoked the hype machine at Tag-Heuer, and now is footloose and fancy free.  And if I were being honest, has succeeded everywhere with the exception of Zenith.  But as Chuck Yeager (played by Sam Shepard) said in The Right Stuff - "Sometimes you get a pooch that can't be screwed, ya' know?"  Zenith is a brand that is greatly admired by purists and journalists, but will probably never be greatly appreciated by the people who are actually needed to actually purchase it.  To quote two knuckle-headed retailers I was recently trapped on an overseas junket with:  "Yeah, it's a great brand, but I have almost no margin on it.  I have to keep discounting it at least 30, sometimes 40 percent."  Not exactly what you want to hear from two big time watch retailers, even if in real life it's hard to distinguish them 
from -

Courtesy of Wikipedia
3.  Let's be honest, we're talking about a shit-ton of money.  Yes, there are money managers out there who know all about finance.  But, there are also plenty of very successful people from other industries that got involved with the faux fame of the watch business and had their heads handed to them.  And for the record, I am definitely in the Billy Beane / Barry Hearn school of management/ownership.  You absolutely need passion, but you also need common sense and self-control.  And most importantly?  You need a person with some gravitas.  Jean-Claude Biver is probably never going to invite me to his chateau for dinner.  I will be shocked if I ever get any more of the famous Biver cheese (unless it is the batch that went off), and I don't think he and I are going to be sipping pastis while playing boules somewhere in the Luberon.  But whether he is going to win a Noble Peace Prize or not, he is probably the one person you would want as the face of your "takeover" if you were, just for the sake of discussion, taking over Patek Philippe.

So let's see. 

Until then?  

We are still waiting for Biver.

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