|Maverick, An Enigma or A Financial Genius?|
Nicholas G. Hayek is a maverick because he sets the rules of the watch industry worldwide with his independent and strong management style, he is an enigma because one still cannot figure out whether he is more passionate about Mozart’s music or more ruthless in steamrolling the Swatch juggernaut across the globe, he is a financial genius because he turns around fortunes of industries, not just the companies he represents.
Nicholas G. Hayek is the Co-founder and Chairman of the Swatch Group, the world’s largest watch company. On the 4th of April, 2005 Mitrajit Bhattacharya, the CEO of Chitralekha met up with the man himself at his office in Baselworld 2005 to share his visions on Breguet and the group. What follows are the excerpts from the interview.
N G H Go ahead, I’m listening. I always do two things at a time.
M B That’s very nice. You are known to be the architect of the recovery of the Swiss watch industry since mid 80’s. Take us through some of your highs in the last 20 years.
N G H It’s a long story. Yes, the Swiss watch industry was in trouble. I took it over and revived it. And we became No.1 worldwide in watches and in prestige watches.
M B Prestige watches, the luxury business that you have entered with.
N G H Well, there is difference between luxury and prestige. Luxury is something that you don’t need and you buy. Prestige comes with authenticity. Companies that have a long history of over 200 years in maKing very good things can be called selling prestige. But it gets very expensive, sometimes. Everybody says I’m luxury today. You can buy a tie from Hermes for $50, that’s luxury but you cannot buy any luxury from Breguet. You buy only prestige. That’s why Breguet is the no.1 prestige watch worldwide.
MB little bit about A.-L. Breguet, the person and you as a person. There’s a lot of similarity, there’s a lot of discussion.. what’s your own feeling?
N G H I didn’t know him. The only thing I know is that I am an officer of the French legion and he was also (an officer) and that he was a clever man. And some people say that I’m clever too.
M B You’ve always talked about Breguet being a brand which is a perfect marriage between technology and art. Can you elaborate?
N G H Yes, in Breguet, you have Beethoven and Einstein. Breguet is an image of the best European art combining technology, beauty, taste and handicraft. And the people who can understand it best are the people in India. You have a very old culture.
M B Do you see Breguet as a potential big brand in India because Indians understand prestige?
N G H Yes, but we started only yesterday.
M B That’s right, but you see it as a potential big market?
NGH We wouldn’t have started otherwise. Indian people have a very high taste of culture. They understand culture. They need real value. And a Breguet watch if you buy it today and, you sell it at an auction 5 years later, you get more money. So, it’s an investment.
M B If you were to choose the best 3 watches in prestige today where would you rate Breguet in that ?
N G H First, Breguet. Not only me, everybody who is a specialist will tell you that Breguet is No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, Patek Philippe would be No. 4, Blancpain No. 5, then would be Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. These are all brands with long history. There are many people trying to get into luxury by putting diamonds everywhere. But they don’t have a history of maKing watches.
M B But Breguet also went through a problem phase in between..
N G H Not one problem, Breguet was dead when I took it over. And Breguet was the watch of the Kings, the Emperors, the Czars. When he (A.-L. Breguet) died it went down completely and nobody wanted it.
M B So, did you think the legacy was so strong that after such a long gap when you took over in 1999 it all came back overnight or was it a lot of hard work and …
N G H No, the legacy was very nice but it was full of dirt. Nobody could see it. It was a sleeping princess, very beautiful but it was full of dust and dirt and debt and she was sitting there and nobody was looking at her. And I came and cleaned it up.
M B You had various other options at the prestige end to choose from. Why did you choose Breguet?
N G H Because it was the pearl of watches. Because it was beauty, beauty, beauty, beauty, beauty.
M B But it was dead for almost 60 years.
N G H Yes, but I recognised the beauty under the surface. That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a manager.