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Corum CEO Antonio Calce: “Mr. Hon has adopted not just a...

Corum CEO Antonio Calce: “Mr. Hon has adopted not just a man but also a management style”

Friday, 03 May 2013
By Julie Mégevand
Julie Mégevand

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5 min read

Antonio Calce can breathe freely at last: the news was announced as a prelude to Baselworld 2013, Corum has just been bought by China Haidian. The group, notably involved in watch brand distribution in China, had already acquired Eterna in 2011. The CEO is happy to see Corum’s financial problems resolved. Above all, he is glad to be able to push ahead with his own brand as well as with Eterna, whose business he will be supervising. We met with him at Baselworld.

What will this buyout change for Corum in concrete terms?

Antonio Calce, Corum CEO: Behind the China Haidian group is above all one man, Hon Kwok Lung, an aficionado of Swiss fine watchmaking. We dealt with him in person. He hopes to prove the naysayers wrong by showing that a Chinese can invest in the Swiss watch industry and respect both the management and the Swiss Made model. As for myself, I want to put an end to this preconceived negative image of a Chinese investor coming to Switzerland to wreck everything, with no idea of what he’s doing. We have a shared vision. I have found in Mr. Hon a person who wants to assist Corum over the long term, because he is convinced of its growth potential. I myself have put a lot of effort into securing this deal, so I am very pleased with it. Since 2008, Corum had been self-financing, a very rare state in watchmaking these days. Mr. Hon said it himself at a press conference here in Basel: “I didn’t just acquire a brand, but I adopted a man, a management style.” I was very flattered.

How did Corum fare in 2012?

2012 was a difficult year, especially in the second half, notably because of the uncertainty about Corum’s future, when the market knew that the brand was looking for a partner and buyer. That naturally had some very negative effects on our business. Last year, our turnover fell below the 100 million Swiss franc mark (Ed: the brand’s record was 120 million CHF, in 2007). Despite that, we continued investing, notably in the integration of more specialties. These days you need to group all your skills in-house. And not just for the communication! In 2012, we invested 30 million Swiss francs, including some ten million in marketing and 6 to 7 million in product development. For the last five years, the personnel has grown from 70 to 138 employees. With self-financing, I doubt that any other brand making a comeback, as Corum has been since 2005, would be capable of taking that on.

Was the brand already in trouble before 2012?

Yes, the difficulties began back in 2008 with the death of the brand’s previous owner, Séverin Wunderman. From that moment on, I knew that I was in for a long period of transition, as his Foundation did not want to make a long term investment in a watch brand. Despite the difficulties, I carried on investing because I wanted to avoid having the machine stop at all costs! That was extremely complicated, I won’t deny that. Every year, I went off in search of French financial partners who have believed in this brand. A bank, or rather a banker, had practically been a shareholder for several years. At the time I was convinced that if we stopped investing, Corum would not have been so desirable in 2012 – 2013. Today, the takeover by China Haidian proves me right. Since 2005, I have always fought to keep Corum’s heritage alive. I am very attached to the values of the watch industry, and have a deep love for the craftsmanship in fine watchmaking. The Corum story is too wonderful, even if it is not 300 years old. We have some iconic products.

Thanks to this new owner you can breathe …

Yes, I am very relieved. Mr. Hon’s financial resources are comparable to those of a watch group. What’s more, he holds some valuable keys to markets with high potential for our watch brand. Lastly, neither he nor his group are intrusive in nature. To prove it, the group acquired the Swiss brand Eterna in 2011. Look at what they have done since … nothing! Eterna has not for example opened sales outlets in Asia since the takeover by Haidian. The group does not want to get involved on that level. And I have been entrusted with the task of supervising Eterna for the time being. To those critics who say that the arrival of this Chinese buyer will change everything for Corum, I point out the example of Eterna. It is quite simply not the case. The message is at last clear for all the markets: Corum’s situation is finally stabilized.

For you as CEO, what changes are in store? You won’t have to be constantly looking for finance…

I will finally be able to concentrate on the work I know how to do. I won’t have to struggle and waste energy on financial aspects. There was a time when I was meeting my financial backer every day! When we launched the project for the new stand at Baselworld, I still had no idea how we would pay for it. But it was absolutely vital for us to be there. The stand at Basel is an indispensable working tool. Over the eight days, we are exposed to over 300 retailers and 300 journalists. It is impossible to reproduce that in the outside world in such a short span of time. To get so many meetings we would need three years, with half our staff on the road! At Basel, the orders we take represent more than half our turnover.

Article published in WtheJournal.com

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