Mastering Time

Mastering Time

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< Legend >

My grandfather invented the first 100th of a second stopwatch in 1916! Sixty years later, there was another way of measuring 100th of a second, and that was electronic. Jack Heuer, chairman, Emeritus takes Mitrajit Bhattacharya through the illustrious history of TAG Heuer

 How is TAG Heuer doing?
It’s doing very well. It’s high profile; it has all the big ambassadors, so there’s a lot of noise. We have two good ambassadors in India. Shah Rukh Khan is a fantastic ambassador for us in India. He is such a nice guy too.

Do you follow Indian films in any way?   Do you know the stars?
I know Shah Rukh Khan because I sat next to him at the big event we had in India two years ago during an elephant polo match. We talked about his family and his films and I enjoyed meeting him very much.

Could you take us through some of the highlights in your career with TAG Heuer? Which achievements are closest to your heart?
I was privileged to take over the family company at a very young age after having had a fantastic education as an electrical engineer and then having spent four years in America where I learnt a lot of the marketing techniques that you don’t learn as an engineer. When I got back, I became the majority shareholder and
we had 15 years of fantastic growth; we did a lot of things right.

Which were the years?
From 1962 to 1975 our company grew from 50 people to over 300 people. We were one of the fastest growing companies in the industry. We were very innovative; we created eight or nine world’s firsts, which are well documented.

I can talk about the self-winding chronograph and then of course in digital technology, as front of the innovation. We also started lots of fascinating things in marketing. I had known a property master in Hollywood, so we started putting our watches into the films on the wrist of the actors. The biggest coup was when we landed that watch on Steve McQueen’s wrist.

What were the earlier placements before that?
We were doing placements for five years by then. I had films with Jack Clemens, Chuck Heston, and Bo Derek. These were informal relationships and things were very good then. Then I entered motor sports with Formula One and that was a fantastic period from 1969 to 1979. We wanted to use Formula One as a breakthrough promotion vehicle for the recently launched world’s first self-winding chronograph. I was looking to promote the watch on a worldwide basis and that was a huge step for a small company like ours at that time with around 100 people.

We had already invested a lot of money for the R&D and the development. If you make media worldwide, you have no effect, so we were looking for a pinpointed specific vehicle to promote that and I thought of Formula One. By then the Swiss driver Jo Siffert had just beaten Jim Clark (September 7, 1968) in the English Grand Prix and he was already a very famous person.

He was a hero in Switzerland and a fast growing driver in Formula One. I made an agreement with him in 1969. We were the first non-automotive sponsor in the Formula One. There was one more non-automotive sponsor, a brand of cigarettes; otherwise there were only tyres, sparkplug and oil companies as sponsors.

Soon as I got into this industry and in 1970 we negotiated a nine-year technical cooperation agreement with Ferrari.

Actually, we never paid Ferrari; we only paid the drivers. We supported Ferrari technically and gave them a lot of our advanced technology. For me those were very interesting years. Then followed some very sad years, a period where the Swiss watch industry was in the doldrums. But that’s another chapter. However, I had the privilege of a second career in consumer electronics outside the watch industry for 20 years. That was fascinating as well.

What exactly were you doing and where?
I started with a Hong Kong electronics company that was my supplier for my digital stopwatches, which I first produced in Switzerland and then outsourced to them. I joined them to organise their marketing in Europe. We had 200 people in 1982 and finished with over 10,000 people 25 years later. That was a very exciting second period for me and I was happy. And just when I retired, TAG Heuer called me back as an honorary chairman. It is very nice to look back at those years I spent with them and see how they were appreciated in building the brand. The whole branding of TAG Heuer is built on the history I just told you.

How do you see the last five years of TAG Heuer compared to the 60s and the 70s.
You see, my company was taken over in the middle of the watch crisis in 1982.The new owners, Piaget, didn’t really know what to do with a brand like this and they sold the brand to TAG, who knew what had to be done. They put in some very smart people and built up the entire development of TAG Heuer on our heritage. They went into Formula One and developed its timing. They made a beautiful history book that no one did at that time. And they started re-launching classical watches; they re-launched the Carrera and the Monaco.

They did a few things right, but neglected one of the strengths of the company – the fact that we were technically innovative over all four generations. When LVMH took over TAG Heuer, the new CEO Jean-Christophe Babin looked at it differently. He didn’t come from the watch industry, so he came with a fresh mind. He saw the strengths of the company as well as its roots. He said it has been an innovative company for over four generations and must remain technically innovative. That has been a big contribution. In addition, TAG Heuer got the professional background of a group like LVMH who knows how to cherish old brands. They invested a lot in R&D and brought out some fascinating innovations in the last five years. We have this V4 that will be out in one or two years. We also have the Caliber S which is a fantastic caliber. The possibilities are enormous…