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“The watch industry is about to enter one of its greatest...
Point of View

“The watch industry is about to enter one of its greatest challenges” (1/2)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011
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Fabrice Eschmann
Freelance journalist

“Don't believe all the quotes you read online!”

“In life as in watchmaking, it takes many encounters to make a story.”

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5 min read

At 44, Antonio Calce has taken a stake in the capital of Montres Corum Sàrl which has been under his stewardship since 2007. This is a strong signal for the markets as the Swiss watch sector prepares to face important industrial challenges. The young CEO talks about why he decided to become a shareholder, and gives his expert view of where the branch is heading. (Part 1)

In September, you became the number-two shareholder in Montres Corum Sàrl, after the Severin Wunderman Foundation. What led you to this decision?

Antonio Calce: Becoming a shareholder is something I envisaged from my very first day at Corum in 2005. I discussed the possibility with Severin Wunderman [the owner of Corum who died in June 2008]. At that time, Corum no longer had any identity, any values. There was, however, an enormous potential to rebuild the brand. Since my appointment as CEO in 2007, I’ve worked hard to build Corum for the long term, not just grabbing opportunities. This shareholding is the final step that confirms my commitment to Corum.

Why now?

The watch industry is about to enter one of its greatest challenges. I believe this is the right time to send out a b signal to the market. I have invested my own money in the company. I’m not the front man for a third party. Henceforth, what I say to retailers, for example, becomes all the more credible. The words of a CEO who is also a shareholder take on a different ring.

Do you think investing in Corum is a risk?

Of course it is. There’s a degree of uncertainty in any type of economic activity, but this is linked to the macro-economic situation: the currency market, sovereign debts, slowdown in growth, etc. As far as Corum and its products are concerned, I’m confident!

Was it ever a question of "invest or step down"?

That’s not how I operate. The time had come for me to personally invest in a brand I brought back to life. Corum is the result of my efforts and those of my team. It’s the same as in nature, where things slowly reach maturity. You can’t speed up the pace.

Will your new status of shareholder imply changes to how the company functions?

No, none, except that I’ll be even more involved in strategic decisions and choices.

Who sits on the board with you?

I’ll only name the chairman, Richard Tomlin, who is also at the head of the Wunderman Foundation in the United States. The remaining seats are held by independent directors who have no role in the running of the business.

Might this structure evolve over the coming months?

No, which doesn’t exclude another shareholder from joining the board. Anything is possible, but it’s not a topic of conversation today. Our one priority is to create value. Every decision will be made with the purpose of fulfilling this objective.

Could this go as far as a new majority shareholder?

At the present time, no. This is neither a necessity nor a strategic objective.

But Corum's independence isn't set in stone…

For me it is, because it means I can express myself fully. Our responsibility is to develop the business. Economic logic must take precedence over any other consideration, be it emotional, personal, or anything else.

Since arriving at Corum, you've streamlined and segmented the collections. What next?

Henceforth, we’ll develop our core business around Admiral’s Cup and Corum Bridges, with a horizontal flagship line that will demonstrate the full extent of Corum’s creativity. Our new Grand Précis, a 1957 model, belongs to this range. In 2012 we’ll reissue Chargée d’Affaires, a magnificent alarm-watch from 1958.

What other surprises are you planning for Baselworld 2012?

We’ll be launching a chronograph version of the Admiral’s Cup Legend, which has been very successful in 2011. And we’ll continue to develop the Ti-Bridge with functions other than purely mechanical. Always with the same concern that products don’t cannibalise each other.

You've announced your official partnership with Energy Team, the Peyron brothers' boat in the next America’s Cup.

So many factors converged we couldn’t not do it. The next America’s Cup will take place in San Francisco, home of the Golden Gate Bridge; the American market is rebuilding itself, and Loïck Peyron has been advising us for a number of years. If this hadn’t all come together, I would never have done it.

Are there plans to revive the Admiral's Cup regatta?

This is a huge project that would have to be started again from scratch. One thing is for sure: if it were to happen, Loïck Peyron would be the man in charge. This is something we’ve already discussed. In the meantime, here’s a scoop: Corum will be the official timekeeper for the next attempt to win the Jules Verne Trophy. The trophy is awarded to the crew that sails fastest round the world, non-stop and with no outside assistance. Next to take up this extraordinary challenge will be none other than Loïck in his giant Banque Populaire trimaran, which measures 40 metres long, 23 metres wide and weighs 23 tonnes. The countdown has begun!

Article published in WtheJournal.com

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