With Baselworld about to open, the comings and goings at watch brands continue unabated. The latest announcement to date concerns Stéphane Linder’s appointment at the head of Gucci Watches, part of the Kering group’s luxury division. He fills a position left conspicuously vacant since Michele Sofisti’s departure at the end of last year. Sofisti, an Italian national and geologist, was an executive at Swatch Group. He was then hired to revive the fortunes of Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard following their acquisition by Kering in 2011, all the while keeping an eye on Gucci. Earlier this year, the French multinational announced that Antonio Calce would be replacing Sofisti at the head of Sowind, which has responsibility for Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard, before announcing Stéphane Linder’s arrival at Gucci.
Neither of the two men are strangers to watchmaking circles. Antonio Calce cut his teeth at Richemont, first with Piaget then at Panerai where he was made director of operations in 2000. Some five years later he took over the top spot at Corum, which in early 2014 was bought by China Haidian whose portfolio already included Eterna. Calce was given stewardship of both brands. The honeymoon was, however, short-lived as Calce resigned from his position in April that year. Stéphane Linder, meanwhile, was a stalwart of TAG Heuer where he spent twenty years, including stints at the head of production and the American market. His loyalty was rewarded when in 2013 he was offered the CEO position, taking over from Jean-Christophe Babin, the newly minted CEO of LVMH brand Bulgari. Once again this would be a brief encounter. Eighteen months later, in December 2014, Linder stepped down.
Brands hope to minimise risks by appointing familiar figures who make up the sector's new old guard.
The fact is that Jean-Claude Biver, who in January 2014 was promoted to the head of LVMH’s watch division (which includes Hublot, Zenith and TAG Heuer), is intent on modelling new recruits to match his strategic ambitions, inspired by past success at Hublot. To second him, in May 2014 he called on Aldo Magada to take the helm at Zenith, previously under Jean-Frédéric Dufour (formerly with Chopard, Dufour has been snapped up for the top spot at Rolex). Aldo Magada and Jean-Claude Biver go back a long way, having worked together at Omega. Prior to joining Zenith, Magada had been international sales director for Breitling. Jean-Claude Biver himself will replace Stéphane Linder at the head of TAG Heuer, which generates annual sales in the region one billion Swiss francs. He will have the backing of Guy Sémon, previously in charge of R&D at the brand.
The picture wouldn’t be complete with mentioning Laurent Dordet’s appointment at the head of La Montre Hermès, effective as of March 1st this year. He takes over from Luc Parramond, now tasked with developing Ralph Lauren’s watch business. Dordet joined Hermès in 1995, in the financial division, and was previously managing director of Hermès Precious Leathers, a post he had held since 2011.
Swiss watchmaking is facing a more challenging context, notably due to a slowdown in markets such as China and Russia, as well as the sudden and unexpected rise in the Swiss franc. One response, most recently at Ulysse Nardin and Breitling, has been to introduce short-time working. Boardroom shuffles are another. Brands hope to minimise risks by appointing familiar figures who make up the sector’s new old guard, even if they haven’t always been quite as successful as hoped. They are the veterans of the industry, ready to fight another day…