Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Transfer Window has Opened...

At ochs und junior -

And it would seem that Thursday/Friday was a pretty squirrely day in Lucerne, with Beat Weinmann announcing that he (as CEO) and four other employees (i.e. pretty much everyone connected to the brand itself) had dropped their papers and would stop working for ochs und junior (and therefore Ulysse Nardin and Kering) effective immediately.  

Now while I realize a lot of regular readers have probably already digested this news as it was not-so-subtly leaked on social media, essentially the message was:
We quit, and we're Audi 5000!

And then either as a reaction to, or an attempted preemptive strike, the shot callers at UN (read the folks who actually pay the bills at ochs und junior) dropped their own version -


29. November 2019
Beat Weinmann, ochs und junior’s longtime CEO, has decided to leave the company. The Board of Directors would like to thank him for his strong contribution over the years and wish him much success in his new endeavors. Along with Kurt K├Ânig and Ludwig Oechslin, Beat co-founded ochs und junior in 2006. He has been instrumental in elevating this company to where it is today. His dedication, commitment and expertise will be missed. Beat’s successor and the company’s new organization and products will be announced shortly. In the interim, Marc Bernhardt will act as a consultant for the company in order to ensure the continuity of operations and services. We would like to thank all of our customers, partners, and friends for their ongoing support.
-The Board of Directors

Now while there was a time when I knew Beat a bit and it would have been fair to call us friendly, that was some years ago and I have not been following ochs und junior or covering them for quite some time. So I think I can 
objectively posit some possible theories as to what may (or may not have) happened. 

It is worth noting that to a large extent, ochs und junior is as much Beat Weinmann's baby as it is Dr. Oechslin's.  To my understanding, they have a longstanding friendship and as far as I know they have worked in close tandem not only on this, but on the first MIH watch, with a connection going back to Mr. Weinmann's days selling watches at Embassy in Lucerne. Some have compared it almost to a marriage of sorts, so it is fair to say that this is not an insignificant event.

1.  Ownership - as in there might have been a desire on the part of Mr. Weinmann to receive some equity or portion of ownership of the brand.  Maybe even a possible purchase of the brand was mooted, and not pursued any further.  This is not as crazy as it might seem, brands of all sizes are bought and sold every day and it is not inconceivable that potential investors were sought out, and a proposal was put together.  As far as can be understood from the now updated ochs und junior web page, both Oechslins appear to be staying put with Kornelia Imesch Oechslin remaining in her position as President and member of the Board of Directors and one would assume Ludwig Oechslin remaining as the creative driver.  

2.  Slow and limited growth - It is important to note that I am in no way trying to imply that ochs und junior was under performing as a small macro/micro brand.  If the well-wishes and "say it ain't so" messages on social media are any indication, ochs und junior has a dedicated fan base.  But it is also important to put numbers into perspective in terms of sales, and to put sales into context in terms of operating expenses. Keep in mind that ochs und junior had 3 - 5 full time members of staff.  It is not unreasonable to assume that when you take that number, plus the rent on the storefront/studio in Lucerne, marketing expenses (yes, there undoubtably were some of these) material expenses for the watches themselves, Dr. Oechslin might have been getting paid a little bit, the President, and then those pesky investors wanting some return on their investment?  

That's a lot of mouths to feed.  

3.  Thanks!  We'll take it from here -  As has happened at another brand recently, the shot callers from the parent company may believe that if a handful of people can do something, why not replace the handful and do it yourself?  

4.  Winding Down - Stranger things have happened.  It is possible that UN feels that they have pumped enough money in, and they are going to wind down the company and welcome Dr. Oechslin back into the fold, or fully absorb ochs und junior into the larger format of Ulysse Nardin.  One other thing to consider,  Dr. Oechslin is 67 years old if Wikipedia is anything to go by.  The watch industry is full of people who keep going on well past retirement age. But then again, not everyone wants to go on forever.

5.  Lured Away -  One other possibility, and this is absolutely an "out there" notion - perhaps Mr. Weinmann was lured away by another brand and will launch a new venture with the team coming with him.  

Yeah, like I said, "out there"

The thing is, in situations like this it is often very, very difficult to know what the true reasons for a separation like this are.  And sometimes a resignation is motivated by rather fractious circumstances.  Moreover?  Sometimes a resignation is not exactly willing.  And truth be told?  It really doesn't matter at this point.

What does seem fairly clear is that one way or another, this has probably been in the offing for some time, and it seems that things finally came to a head.  It's not every day that an entire company (no matter how big or small) walks out en masse.  A boss leaves and others trickle out over the next few days?  Sure. Everyone on the same day at the same time?  Not so usual.

What can we be sure of?
For better or worse, Beat Weinmann was in many ways more responsible for the success of ochs und junior than anyone else.  It was a charming, unique little brand that blazed its own trail.  I use the past tense here, because even if ochs und junior continues onward, it will be a very different brand than it was.  I suspect the space in Lucerne will be closed, the espresso machine sold, the production shifted to UN, and apart from one person as yet to be named who will lead the whole thing, it is likely that marketing, communication and sales will shift to UN, and an effort to break into retail with a specialist retailer.

And keep in mind one other possibility -
We just might see Mr. Weinmann pop up again with a new brand.  Or maybe he will return to the world of bicycles, or even try something completely new. New chapters can be scary, but also exhilarating.  

So good luck and God's speed.

Tempus Fugit

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