Friday, January 31, 2020

I Could Do It Better Myself! The Brand CEO

Or, a cautionary tale on the realities of the watch business.

In a former life, I was not in the watch business on any level whatsoever.  I bought the three US based watch magazines with the same fervor of an 8 year old buying baseball cards.  Okay, that example might be out of date, but take your young child's current enthusiasm and insert it here ; )

When you admire a business or industry from afar, it is quite easy to see things through rose-colored glasses.  A good friend of mine dreamed of working for a European based professional cycling team.  He wanted to be the guy who was there at the finish line to assist the next Bernard Hinault off his bike at a stage finish of the Tour de France.  After three years of living in shitty hotels around the world, multiple cases of bronchitis, a failed marriage (former wife left him for a barista. To paraphrase "at least he had a steady job and was home on weekends") and getting a good scare after getting jabbed by an IV bag's bloody, used needle, he realized that $50,000 a year was not worth it.  Reflecting back, he did have the ability to curse in French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and one other language that he still can't identify, some scratched-up water bottles, and a signed jersey from a race winner in some minor,  Eastern European stage race that is no longer in existence.  His former wife earned an MBA and that former Barista now works for a well-respected NGO in micro finance, and has given a well-received TED Talk.

But let's get back to watches.  Despite the fact that I have no hesitation to call bullshit on certain situations, I suffer no delusions as to the difficulty of trying to run, or even work for a brand.  Today, let's start at the top and think about that rockstar - the CEO.

As has been mentioned before, the late 90s and early oughts brought with them the era of the watch brand CEO as rock star. We all know that Biver was Blancpain, Omega then Hublot. We know that Frederique Constant are led by the Stas family, and that Thierry Stern is the latest (and perhaps last) Stern family member that will helm the ship.  Now in most other industries, a CEO is, well, just not that sexy.  For whatever reason (and we all theorize about it) watch CEOs suddenly became not only relevant, but exciting!  And for better or worse, that has been steadily changing over the past few years.  And with it we have seen some pretty dramatic falls from some pretty lofty heights.

As armchair experts, we assume that as a CEO you live a pretty easy, idyllic life -

You roll into the office at around 10:00 AM, traipse through the production facility wishing all of the watchmakers well, grab the paper and plop your feet up on your desk as an espresso magically appears at your side.  You might then speak briefly with a sales manager hearing the wonderful results, then you saunter down to the executive dining room for lunch.  After lunch you're off to the airport where a private jet whisks you off to Italy for a photo-op with your favorite footballer who trades you a signed jersey for a (retail) $20,000 watch. You have a lovely early dinner with said star, team president and other hangers-on.  Then back to the private jet that whisks you home, where your stunning (not-so-age appropriate) partner is waiting for you wearing little more than a smile.  

This is, of course, all bullshit.

So I thought I would share with you a montage of of the Swiss and Japanese CEO's I have worked with and give you a sense of what their day was like:

4:15 - rudely awakened by a random call from an overseas sales manager who despite working for a company that manufactures, markets and sells wrist watches, has still not grasped the concept of international time zones.  But what can you do?  He's the nephew of one of your Board members.

6:00 - after stealing back 15 - 20 minutes of sleep, you have to get up, put on your track suit and take the dog out before you have another unfortunate incident that will require strong cleaning products to remedy if you don't get the puppy on the leash and out into the garden in the next 45, 44, 43 seconds!

6:20 - you made the mistake of bringing your cell phone with you on the walk which is now taking longer than usual as you have a call from the head of assembly, informing you that there was a leak in the lavatory that has now seeped down into the workshop.  You are now really regretting not selling the beautiful old workshop (great for photo opportunities and media "moments" but your watchmakers hate it) when you were approached by that smooth talking, but slightly dodgy real-estate agent who was shopping on the behalf of a very wealthy client hailing from a former Soviet Republic/Stan, who could not be named, but who you suspect belongs to a "fraternal" organization made up of other mysterious fellows that is not the Elks or the Masons.  

7:15 - chasing the kids to hurry up and get ready!  Your partner has already left for work, and today's your day to get the children to their three different schools which are, you guessed it, in three different villages.

8:20 - all three now safely deposited at their institutions of learning, you work the phone (via your hands-free set-up) as you drive on to the office.  No work has taken place in the workshop.  The plumber is, apparently, on vacation in Majorca, and you are now reaching out to a regional assembler to see if they can help you out in the short term by handling the assembly of a week's worth of production.

8:55 - you sprint past the main entry way where you clap eyes on the journalist who is there for an interview (set to start in five, no make that four minutes).  Brief pleasantries are exchanged, and you make your way to one of the conference rooms.  This is the same room that was used for the company yoga class last night, and is still a wee-bit "aromatic" this morning.  

9:05 - after apologizing for the absence of a coffee (nobody remembered to order more Nespressso pods), you begin the dog and pony show with the journalist who you realize is just slightly older than your eldest child, and might be finally old enough to vote in their first election this year.  Halfway through the interview/inquisition you are then treated to the sales pitch from said journalist who presents you with a rate card for today's interview.  If you want it to run beyond their instagram feed, it will cost X.  You make a mental note to cancel the lunch reservation and wrap this up as quickly as possible.  A "goodie bag" is assembled and passed over, and you move onto the next hurdle.

10:45 - Regional Assembler owner calls to inform you that they are "SLAMMED" with orders from (Regional Assembler begins to drop big, expensive names), but maybe you could meet at the most expensive restaurant near his shop to discuss the possibilities over lunch?

11:05 - after reviewing the plumbing situation, you call your brother-in-law who you remember did a 6 month apprenticeship back in the 80s, and might be able to help out.

11:50 - you remember that tomorrow is the board meeting.  You put together a shopping list for food and beverages, and NESPRESSO PODS, Dammit!

12:30 - you arrive at the most expensive restaurant near the assembler's shop to find the assembler and someone who is very clearly not his wife sharing the remains of a not inexpensive bottle of champagne.  You do the mental math and realize that you probably never should have called him in the first place.  Your guests order half the menu, you order a cup of soup and still water, trying to figure out how to explain this to your accounting department.  In the end, apologies all around, but we're just too busy to help you.  "But we should do this again some time!"

2:43 - back at the workshop, your brother in law is on the scene, has somehow managed to field strip the leaky joint, run out to the local Home Depot, purchased the requisite replacement gaskets, re-assembled the connection, flushed the pipes and...
Good as new!  He even grabs a mop to help the cleaning crew clean up the mess!  You make a mental note, contact the purchasing office and - with your own money - buy him a new watch with your company discount.  Thank you's are exchanged and you make plans for him and his family to come over at the weekend.  All is right with the world... for now.

4:45 - after about a ZILLION calls from overseas agents, you then have your meeting with the marketing department who are very, very keen to make a regional F3 racer a brand ambassador.  You google the name and realize that said F3 racer is the godson of your head of marketing.  You keep your poker face, and suggest a follow-up meeting about it next week.

:30 - You have nearly finished preparing your presentation for the board meeting tomorrow night, your partner calls to ask you if you could please pick up your middle child who missed the bus after her karate class.  So you gather up a few files, grab your shopping list for tomorrow, grab your laptop and head to your car, your daughter, and finally - home.

Yes, it's not all glamour ; )

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