Marc A. Hayek oversees three of Swatch Group’s most legendary brands, Breguet, Blancpain and Jaquet Droz. An accomplished racer and successful restaurateur his leadership has guided the watchmakers to impressive results. At the close of Baselworld 2013, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief caught up with the grandson of the late Swiss business legend Nicolas G. Hayek to get a closing report and talk about how the company continues to deliver impressive numbers despite the vagaries of the World and the challenges of generational succession.
Elite Traveler: How was Baselworld?
Marc A. Hayek: It looks very good again. We are happy with orders of the novelties for Breguet with some very strong references. We had a very good quantity of orders for tourbillons, which are complicated to make, but it is a good problem to have. The overall collection for Blancpain works very well.
ET: Do you share the industry’s concern about China?
MH: Blancpain and Jaquet Droz had growth last year (in China), and Breguet was more or less flat. We’ve seen an explosion in Chinese tourists (buying watches when traveling), particularly Paris, Switzerland and where they travel. Overall the market is growing and performing well.
ET: Several brands have announced they are closing stores in China?
MH: Other brands have been hit harder, but I think it depends on how you built your business. Fortunately for us while it’s not ‘plus 30’ or ‘plus 50,’ one month it might be ‘minus 10,’ the next month flat or slightly up. Our brands are performing well in a difficult situation. It’s not ‘minus 30 or 40.’
ET: How do you see Harry Winston timepieces fitting in to the group?
MH: I haven’t even seen all the watches yet. The deal was only concluded three weeks ago so we are still analyzing. It’s where we had a hole in our portfolio with the jewelry business. The watches are very nice stories, and we have the distribution network and the development and production capacity in the group so that should help to further develop (Harry Winston watches).
ET: What is the timing for integration?
MH: Next week I am going to Geneva to analyze what has happened and what is planned. Right away of course there are small things, but we will take it step by step. We will keep the DNA of the brand. There’s no reason to change it, but adding and helping on the watch side, particularly the distribution. Changing Harry Winston is not at all the idea.
ET: Could we see some of your watch brands add to their jewelry offerings?
MH: It works for Breguet. We do okay, but it’s not our business roots, and it’s not something you do in a short time. It takes time to create an image as a jeweler. We want to profit from what we see as the ‘know how’ from Harry Winston, but it’s not that we see Harry Winston producing jewelry from the other (watch) brands. LVMH (with its Bulgari acquisition) and ourselves left a lot of space for (Richemont’s) Cartier (for jewelry), and it’s a playground we want to play in as well.
ET: You are an accomplished sportsman. Do you take any lessons from sports to business?
MH: From the time I was growing up, I always thought doing sports and competitions was a good lesson for life. You profit from the discipline and concentration. Doing sports shows when you stop, you get out of the rhythm. I run in winter because when I stop, I don’t feel as well. (In business like sports) you have to prove yourself every day because that’s how it should be.
ET: The generational transition after your grandfather Nicolas G. Hayek passed away (in 2010) was incredibly smooth. How did it go so well?
MH: We really never had the pressure to come into the business. My grandfather always said, ‘you have to do what you like to do.‘ The most important part is it was our choice to be here. The Swatch Group philosophy is like a family business, but not only the family. The (senior) people who are here all grew up inside the group. We have people here 25 and 30 years or more. So it’s not a big shock because you continue together. If we had people here only two years or five years, we wouldn’t have those relationships. (At Swatch Group) we do it together. Even when we had someone as charismatic as my grandfather, it was still, ‘we do it together.’