CEO Gucci Group Watches and Jewelry
CEO Sowind Group (Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard)
Michele Sofisti has worked for Nicolas G. Hayek, Bernard Arnault and now serves under François-Henri Pinault at PPR. An Italian national, Michele Sofisti has been president of Swatch AG (Switzerland) for five years. He also served as president of Fred Jewelers and Christian Dior watches at LVMH, following stints as vice president of the Swatch Group and president of Omega SA. He also served as CEO of Ferrari Germany. Sofisti joined PPR’s Gucci Group Watches as strategic advisor in 2009. He was promoted to CEO in 2010 after helping successfully reposition Gucci’s product offering. Dominique Loiseau is a French-Swiss watchmaking legend who is considered a leading mind and innovator of the industry. Together, with Sofisti as CEO of Sowind Group—it includes Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard brands, and also Sowind Manufacture, which develops and produces a complete portfolio of high-end watch movements—and Loiseau as his collaborator chosen to restore the house to its top ranking, their biggest challenge may be in front of them. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan caught up with them during a visit to New York.
ET: Tell us about your background.
Michele Sofisti: I started in geology. It’s a passion of mine. More by chance I ended up working for Ferrari and became CEO. In 1995 Jean-Claude Biver brought me to Omega and since then I have been involved in haute horlogerie.
ET: How did you and Dominique come to this collaboration?
Michele Sofisti: Dominique Loiseau and I worked together when I was at Omega and he was one of the first people I called when I came to Girard-Perregaux. He is not just a watchmaker, he is an inventor and creator.
ET: And are you happy being back in a full-time position as opposed to consulting?
Michele Sofisti: Being back as a manager is exciting. I enjoy it. I go into any type of project and I get passionate. There is a big challenge. There is a lot of work to make an organization run the right way. It’s a huge opportunity to run two different businesses—Gucci and Sowind. The main challenge is to bring a 220-year-old company and push it into the future. You need to change all of the departments, all of the team.
ET: And how have you started?
Michele Sofisti: We have a long-term plan. In 2012, we had already completed 2013; we are halfway through 2014 and working on 2015-16.
I believe vision is the most important job of the CEO. Then you work. It is a little like sailing a boat. You know where you are going and you are headed in that direction but you have to be willing to deviate from your course a bit when it makes sense.
Today, after the economic crisis, even the rich want authenticity, value and correct pricing. The day of just making up a price and putting it on the product are gone.
ET: How’s business?
Michele Sofisti: Business has been a spread. And this has been a transition year changing distribution, production and communication. We are very happy in certain markets such as Asia. Europe is sleeping but we believe in the US. If you are successful in the US you are successful in the world. Two areas where Girard-Perregaux was missing are sport and lifestyle and we are addressing that. We have also become active on the web and we have started relationships with the foundations of Kobe Bryant and David and Susan Rockefeller.
ET: What does PPR’s majority ownership mean?
Michele Sofisti: The fact is it is only positive. It is security to our supply chain. They can see the long-term future. PPR is one of the few that takes the time to nurture and develop.
ET: Tell us about the Manifesto of Time that Girard-Perregaux recently announced?
Dominique Loiseau: For many, many years the industry used conventional codes using logic and mathematics, creating at its own time its own rigid framework. The only way to get out of this rigid framework is to use the technique of the surrealists—giving full power to imagination and fully free creation without any constraints and trying to replace the artist with the subconscious in order to create a new emotion. We have to put together all these ideas. That is why we created the Manifesto of Time. It is a way to contribute to the great surrealists, including André Breton who wrote the Manifestoes of Surrealism and also to honor creators such as Salvador Dali.
ET: How does it apply to watches?
Dominique Loiseau: By creating the grand complication we put in practice the principles I just mentioned. We give priority to deconstruction. We completely reshuffle the techniques and the structure of all the complications. Therefore we start with the principle that the energy will emanate from the center of the movement. The complication, thereafter, will be spread out by the splitting of the mechanisms and visualizations and by completely changing the order of presentation of the various elements. In addition, this watch will include a surprise with a frequency that will be spread out over an entire year by giving priority to what I call sonic visualization.
ET: What is the role of a watchmaker in a manufacture such as Girard-Perregaux?
Dominique Loiseau: The watchmaker’s main responsibility is to master the technique so as to give free range to his imagination. Without mastering the technique he becomes a slave to the technique. Once he has full control he can put his creativity into action and pursue the work of Girard-Perregaux for the last 221 years, which both respects tradition while at the same time looks towards the future, favoring modernism and creativity. Tradition without creativity is not a good habit. That is why my collaboration with Girard-Perregaux represents for the watchmakers at [the company] a great adventure. We are trying to write a new page in horology by refusing to submit and allowing our creativity to fully express itself. I’ve always thought the world can only be saved by people who do not submit.