Audemars Piguet – SIHH 2015: Audemars Piguet – Interviews
I tried to arrange interviews with as many senior management of Audemars Piguet as possible, and was able to interview those gentlemen:
1. Francois-Henry Bennahmias – CEO
2. Octavio Garcia – Chief Artistic Director / Lucas Gopp – Senior Designer
3. Tim Sayler – Chief Marketing Officer
Thank you for arrangement, AP PR as well as AP JP team.
Mr. Francois-Henry Bennahmias, CEO
This message has been edited by KIH on 2015-01-26 05:19:43 This message has been edited by AnthonyTsai on 2015-01-26 15:28:36 This message has been edited by MichaelC on 2015-01-30 13:41:16
Mr. Francois-Henry Bennahmias was born in Paris and his first career was “pro golfer”. He went up to 25th ranked in France, and then he started the new career in the luxury goods. He first was in the high-end apparel industry before joining the high-end watch industry. He joined Audemars Piguet in 1994 and in 3 years he was transferred to Singapore, and then France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Brunei, Australia, and Malaysia. Then he was appointed to be the CEO of Audemars Piguet North America in 1999. He became the CEO of Audemars Piguet in January, 2013.
KIH: Thank you so much for your time in this busiest week.
Mr. Bennahmias (“FHB”): I know PuristSPro very well and you are very welcome.
KIH: I have talked to some of your people and they share the view that the brand has reached a certain “mile stone” in terms of sharing the brand image, direction, and message globally, i.e. visiting the boutique anywhere in the world would give you the same message, same feeling. And you appear to be content where you are now. But, you can’t stand still and what would your next move be?
FHB: Just keep the momentum going. We really work on the strategy – even before I came on board, by the way. I didn’t change or choose everything. A lot of things were already in place, before I came on board. My only job was to coordinate the whole things to make sure it would be respected, at every step it would be respected. That’s it. So the strategy is in place for at least 10 years, and my next job is to make sure that every step is respected, nothing more. So, look at it like an orchestra and a conductor. I just need to make sure that everybody plays the same music, in harmony. I am very happy.
KIH: Okay, then what would be your “next” strategy going forward?
FHB: Very simple. Fewer gets better – meaning, not big increase in quantity, and shift from wholesale sales to retail sales, less distribution, more efficiency with the product channel and manufacture, more integration of all the craft of manufacturing process, and much bigger access to the end consumers.
KIH: Do you have any plan to change or shift the product lines? Increasing some, re-defining some?
FHB: We will make change to Jules Audemars line in a few years. Right now, it is “normal” watch. We want to make it recognizable. We are working on it. Royal Oak and Offshore will remain our core product lines.
KIH: How did you take the news of CHF jump?
FHB: Like everybody else. It’s not a big deal. Nobody died. No tower went down. It’s okay. It’s only money. It’s not life and death issue. It’s just a part of life. Don’t treat it like a global tragedy.
So, that’s it for my first interview with Mr. FHB as I was told that I would have only 15 minutes. Mr. Bennahmias is very “to the point” CEO and answers are all quick and short. I felt Audemars Piguet would steer clear the economic environment as well as other hurdles with this skipper.
He said he would come to Japan twice a year and I am very much looking forward to the next encounter.
This message has been edited by KIH on 2015-01-26 05:21:09 Thanks KIH. I’ve learned a lot from FHB just from his answers. 1) Well he’s no JC Biver that’s for sure and that’s a real shame. 2) Some of his answers were flippant and bordered on the offensive. ‘No tower went down.’ Can’t believe a CEO would even say such a thing in such a derisive way. Again he should learn a thing or two from JC-he’ll be a better leader and general person for it. Very uninspirational and flippant in my view. Thanks again KIH for taking the time to do this… he just said that the economic turbulence, which is now represented by the rise of Swiss Franc, is not something we should make a big deal of. It is part of life and there is not much we can do, so we just go on doing what we can. That is what he said. Where did you find it “offensive” here? Sorry, I just don’t get what you mean… Would you elaborate?
KenSure KIH. It’s the arrogant way he comes across-‘it’s only money and things like no tower went down.’ Well to some customers who have to save for their watches money is a factor and when he mentions that no tower went down is a clear referral to the twin Tower tragedy in NY with 911. Put another way KIH-how would you have felt if he said well no nuclear reactor was compromised because of a tsunami so no problem? I don’t want to pick a fight and this has nothing to do with you but his answers are not becoming of a CEO. You don’t say things like that sorry my opinion. Again JC Biver would be more in touch and sensitive to his environment.
Why do you always mention JC Biver as an example?I am not saying he is not but I wonder…just curious..
What Francoise Bennahmias stated seems ok to me,perhaps not in line with prefabricated press answers we are used to ,perhaps little direct but God Bless a bit of spontaneity .
……it seems that, these days, finding extreme ways to”take offence” is a favourite sport for many.
The key message is that whatever the Swiss National Bank did to the foreign exchange cap is just about money.
It’s not a Life or Death issue.
This pays respect to those alive or dead by raising them above ‘mere money’.
Reading things that are not there and extrapolating colloquial imagery is more dangerous.
It is now common usage to refer to 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and (yes even) the 2001 NYC towers as metaphors of extreme disaster. We can only cope with Evil when we can speak of Evil.
If you do not say his name, he-who-must-not-be-named becomes powerful; the same for evil events.
We will not be silenced by terrorists nor false “political correctness”.
This message has been edited by MTF on 2015-01-26 07:54:05 No message bodyThanks for your input and reply but I have to respectfully disagree. I can only extrapolate imagery if it is presented to me. Mr. B first made mention of ‘tower’-did he not? From that statement how can one not immediately conjur up certain ‘feelings’ or thoughts from 911? There are many ways to get your message across without being too specific in this regard. Why mention ‘no tower fell’ when we are talking about a rise in the currency? I’m quite sure that there are myriad ways to express his sentiment or weltanschauung (worldview) without resorting to this. Perhaps a more tactful, salient and apropos response would have been more appropriate. No one is talking about evil and I made no mention of that-all I’m saying is this: FHB in my opinion came across as a little thoughtless and there are other ways to express the same sentiment with perhaps a ‘softer’ vernacular and lingua franca.
I use JC Biver because that’s my only point of reference in regard to ‘higher end’ watches (well higher end to me anyway). Anytime I’ve had an issue with my Hublot timepieces he always intervenes and bends over backwards to help me resolve the issue and never makes me feel like that pita customer but a valued client. He also comes on the board to interact with clients and offers extended warranties. Now I know that this is not the norm and he’s an iconoclast in this area but you can see that he takes the time and effort to ‘mingle’ with customers and is not in an ivory tower somewhere but in the trenches-in other words he’s accessible. This has nothing to do with AP’s timepieces and quality which is top notch but with the manner in which a CEO conducts himself.
I appreciate spontaneity but those answers are ridiculous-again my opinion. He comes across as rather crass and boorish. Think about some of his answers:
1) ‘No big deal’-well to some who have to save it is a big deal. It means they have to either save longer or forego the watch or some other thing has to give way in order to purchase it-there’s a clear cost benefit when money is concerned. He should be a little more understanding in this area.
2) ‘No tower went down’-I wonder how some of the NY AP purchasers feel about this statement. How about no plane went down? How does this come across to our Malaysian or Indonesian members for instance?
3) ‘Don’t treat it like a global tragedy;-sure that statement is true but comes off very flippant.
MOC, not my sport at all to take offense-frankly I just see some stupid answers from a CEO that is all. You don’t need prefab soundbites but answer in a more understanding way and not come across in a cold and impersonal manner-again my own opinion for what it’s worth. moFrancois Bennahmias lived in NY many years and perhaps was there when the tragedy occurred. He LOVES the United States. As an American, I take no offense whatsoever with his remark.
You need to re-read what Ken wrote about Francois’ answers being quick and to the point. The environment at SIHH is beyond hectic. For Ken to secure AP’s CEO on the busiest of days is wonderful for us. There is no time for chit chat; the answers are terse.
All of your sentiments are based upon these few minutes Francois had to provide us with quick answers, and your perception of this person could not be more wrong.I have no doubt that there was no malice or ill will involved whatsoever. I’m not questioning his integrity-all I’m saying is that he could have made a more articulate statement without mentioning a ‘tower falling’ that is all. No one is questioning motive, thought, intent, inter alia. There are many ways to say the same thing some better than others again my own opinion.FHB is blunt and no bullshit. he has always stood behind his words and his products; when AP screws up, he takes it like a man and deals with it fairly and directly.
is he brusque at times? yes. do I want to kick his ass at times? yes.
but I respect him: in a world of talking heads and false “best friends” whose friendship and warmth lasts as long as your wallet is open or you are helpful to them, Francois is a breath of fresh air, even if sometimes a little … too off the cuff for his own good.
and that’s a large part of his charm.
give me candor over bullshit any day of the week.
but that’s just me.
I can understand that. That’s why I like JC Biver so much. Stands behind the product with no bull. Cheers
SpeedwingI don’t know how he feels about me, but I know I respect the heck out of his business sense and execution, voting for him as watch exec of the year more times than I ever thought I would…
TMYeah Mr. Biver is quite the character and CEO. The funny thing is I’m more like Mr. Bennahmias than JC in my field. Take care Thomas and BTW I hope you still have the Legacy which is one of my favourite watches out there.
Speedwing I had a chance to meet him when my MBA class visited the AP manufacture in Le Brassus. He is a breath of fresh air in an industry full of know-it-all stuck-ups. For people who do not know him and read only this interview he comes off as very daredevil, but in fact he is extremely quick, smart on his feet, and most importantly – never puts an importance on his opinion because he is a CEO.Wish I could have had him visit my MBA class as well-guess UK is too far. I know JC Biver also went to give a talk at IMD in Lausanne (maybe there’s where you went as well) and was a hit. Best interview/interesting story has to be when he went to talk to some watch enthusiasts in Singapore and gave history, business and life lessons which really hit the spot. Cheers
SpeedwingThanks very much for taking the time to conduct the interviews during a very busy week Ken.
I hope the following comments of mine are taken as genuine comments from a big fan of the brand, and an AP owner. Not being argumentative at all, but I feel this is a good a place as any to have a dialogue, and maybe it will be read .
The one thing that stood out to me, and disappointed to be honest, was the above quote. I guess I keep beating my same old drum about AP leaning on its history more, but I feel it is such a huge loss to the watch industry not to see AP build on its pre-72 history. I personally believe a reworked Jules Audemars range on its own could carry a watch brand without even the RO and ROO contingent in its place, it has that much heritage to it and its newer higher end pieces are just out of this world!
The one piece that stood out for me from SIHH, from all the brands, was the Jules Audemars Tourbillon chronograph, and it feels as though it is just a footnote in the press releases when it comes to the SIHH releases, and all the focus has been shone on the Royal Oak series. And I own a Royal Oak, so this isn’t at all about my personal preferences, as I am a fan of the range.
As an example the discontinued Jules Audemars chronograph, with breguet numerals (the white gold case came with a beautiful ivory/cream dial), which I felt was a beautiful watch, but you would be hard pressed to ever see the watch in a display cabinet. After admiring it for 2-3 years on websites etc, I had absolutely no idea that AP produced a similar style watch in the 1930s until recently, and that this watch was designed in similarity to the old chrono. I would be singing and shouting all day long from the rooftops about how beautiful this combination is, and how it harks back to a golden age of chronos In these days of ‘heritage’ watches, this was one with so much heritage that…. that….. well I couldn’t think of a witty comment to put here, hehe, but you know what I mean!
Sorry, didn’t mean to keep going on, its just something I feel quite passionate about, as you can tell
Thanks again for bringing us the coverage.
like hublot instead of MDM.
how can a maison forget one of his two founders?edward piguet’s line is still missing…. what a shame!This subject has been considered for many years. Of course, in some ways, this is a good problem for AP, and in others, certainly not.
I firmly believe you could take away both RO lines and Audemars Piguet could still thrive. But it certainly would be a very different company at this point, and how do you go back?
I have owned Jules Audemars and Millenary pieces. I love them. Nowadays, so many of the “great” models house high complications. With the Millenary line, we saw a major development a few years back with the 4101. And it sounds like we might see a similar breakthrough with the Jules Audemars line. I definitely hope so, and in the mean time, there are still many current models I would thoroughly enjoy adding if I could afford them.
As far as the Royal Oak, I must tell you, I have recently come to the conclusion it is the greatest single watch design ever. I am a designer and builder by day; I have always felt the architectural lines of the Royal Oak have a special appeal to me. The 15202 Royal Oak Extra Thin is really the watch that pushed me over the edge to reach this conclusion. It is as perfect as a modern watch gets. I also wear a 39mm Royal oak Chronograph. The slightly thicker dimensions create their own marvel and I can never stop admiring it.
So as much as I agree and hope to see AP push the other collections which I find quite attractive, I would not want to live without my octagons.
BTW, one reason the new JA Toubillon Chronograph might have flown a little under the radar is a similar version was released a few years ago, in platinum with a “Tuscany blue” dial color. Hard to decide between it and the new white gold black dial, but I think I prefer the older one:
And yes, I agree regarding the octagons, and its funny you mentioned it, but it was when I first tried the 15202 that I had that feeling. I have the 26300 ROC, but the 15202…. wow, they are actually quite different watches!
sometimes a model line can become so iconic and so successful it seems to overshadow everything else.
until it doesn’t.
don’t despair, there is no question AP HQ and their Board remember their heritage pre-1972. they have even created a full time global brand ambassador and historian position to spread the AP gospel. Michael Friedman is a great evangelist…
in past conversations with Director and high level execs, including Members of the Board of Directors, I remember oft hearing “AP is not the Royal Oak”
so don’t despair, keep the faith, and enjoy! afterall, one of the great hits of SIHH2015 is the ladies’ version of the Millenary 4101…
and you know what’s almost always on my wrist, don’t you?
TMI guess I will just take consolation in the fact that the JA line will be done in a few years as mentioned above…. for which I will interpret the fact that it will not be hasty procedure, but one in which they have taken their time, and done properly, which would be the right way to do it… glass half full!!
It will be a few years before the Jules Audemars range will be re-positioned as cutting edge and new icon of Audemars Piguet portfolio.
So, it is not surprising that you are seeing the “lull before the storm” in the press release waffle.
Hang in there….or….buy the remaining Jules Audemars Tourbillon Chronograph etc…….
for the JA TC hehehe….. I posted a wristshot pic above of it, its is such a well executed design!
Mr. Octavio Garcia was born in Chicago, USA. His passion for drawing was nurtured by the habit of copying his favorite heroes on paper, while helping his father repairing old American muscle car sparked his interest in mechanics and industrial designs.
He joined Audemars Piguet as Design Manager in 2003.
Mr. Octavio Garcia’s current title is the Chief Artistic Officer, joined by Mr. Lucas Gopp whose current title is the Senior Designer.
KIH: Thank you very much for your time.
Mr. Octavio Garcia (“OG”): We are all fans of PuristSPro. We always look at our brand forum as well as other brands forum. We enjoy the objective views of your forum.
KIH: In the brand that has established “style” like Audemars Piguet, you must have certain “constraint” in designing new model. What hurdles do you face and how do you deal with them?
OG: In a company like Audemars Piguet, with heritage and tradition, the constraint is the product it has built in the past, for more than 130 years. We have two iconic collections – Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore, and working around what make those products recognizable is for us probably the most exciting and creative driver that you can have as a designer. It is a fantastic challenge to work with Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore because of the recognizability. Then we have Millenary collection where despite the fact that we have established the oval shape style, it is more like “sky is the limit” approach where anything is possible. There, the challenge is different because you try to make a statement and create an element that eventually one day will be recognizable element. Having those two playing fields, from the design point of view, it is the best mix.
Mr. Lucas Gopp (“LG”): We always wonder what else can be done, we constantly look for technical solutions from design. For smaller quantities, we can do more cutting-edge things. And we constantly fight for solutions. We provide technical solutions together with the engineers to get around the technical constraints as much as possible.
KIH: How do you work with the “inside the watch” departments?
LG: We do the external design, finishing, engraving, the smallest details, etc. But when the movement engineers come up with new ideas, we of course collaborate. We work very closely together. It’s a team effort.
OG: Designers and engineers hate each other. No, kidding . Throughout the years, we found that the best environment is the synergistic one. We have a good grasp on what we want to communicate to the brand. For example, for all those complicated pieces, we actually give input to the engineers and sort of orient their approach. The engineers over time have developed aesthetic sensitivity. They understand over time where we want to go with the different collections. They understand the personality of each collection, and depending on which collection we decide to undertake, they already have good idea of, for example, with Royal Oak – we are speaking about the movement which is relatively thin, and we want to maintain elegance. With Millenary, we have this off-center theme and oval shape, with Royal Oak Offshore, it often have chronograph. So there is context each time. So, we have this framework of innovation per collection in which we can play together. And so, understanding that takes time, but when you are aligned with your team, I think it is probably the most important role of the designer to be able to promote these ideas, the different philosophy for each collection across the maison, including but not limited to engineering and marketing – because at the end of the day, marketing has to tell the story.
LG: We sit together very early on in the project phases. We don’t wait until late stage. Development of the movement takes a long time and cost a lot, and if the movement is already done, there is not much the designers can do about it.
KIH: How many new models do you design per year?
OG: Anywhere between 5 and 10 novelties per year, ranging from face lift to innovative one, to brand new or complicated calibers.
KIH: Lastly, what will be your biggest challenges in terms of designing the watches?
OG: The biggest challenge is to stick to the goal the company sets – not the short term, but the long term. We make sure that we see the destination, we have ambitions, and to be able to stick to that course despite the economic situation. It is important that we stay on the course for the long term, NOT the short term.
LG: In developing watches, time literally flies – it took 8 years to develop RD#1, and years go by so quickly. So, it is always important to think in the long run. We don’t get nervous or over-enthusiastic. We just maintain constant speed for the long road.
KIH: Thank you so much for your time.
Both: You are welcome.
They clearly share the same vision about the “themes” and the “direction” or “philosophy” of the brand with others. They are the team of just four designers. Incredible jobs, they do. Very much looking forward to “what’s next”. Again, thank you very much, both!
This message has been edited by KIH on 2015-01-26 05:19:32
Mr. Tim Sayler was born in Munich, came to Switzerland to study at Saint-Gull University for the first time. The he went on to study at HEC in Paris as well as New York University Stern School of Business. Earned Master’s degree in Economics and Management. He started his career at P & G in Geneva, and by 2004, he was responsible for the perfume products of various brands at Prestige Division. He, then, joined Audemars Piguet as the Chief Marketing Officer in 2011.
KIH: Thank you very much for taking time to talk with me in this busiest week for you. I have read your bio and you were in marketing, but in the entirely different area for a while. What made you want and decide to move to the watch industry?
Tim Sayler (“TS”): Two things. First of all, I love watches. And secondly, living in Geneva, you can’t escape it. You are so in the center of everything and it draws you in. And I was extremely fortunate to be able to join Audemars Piguet because it is like going straight to the top in watchmaking, so I was very fortunate.
KIH: Okay, thanks for telling us of your background. So, what is the theme this year?
TS: A couple of themes. Well, THE theme is Audemars Piguet as always. Why am I saying this? Because we have a new booth. I hope you like. It’s a little bit bigger than in the past, but it looks very much different. I am saying the theme is Audemars Piguet because this, we think, is really the perfect expression of Audemars Piguet. We are talking about our origin, we are talking about history, we have watchmakers at the center, but everything looks very, very 21st century. Well, maybe even 23rd century if you look at the spaceship over there (pointing at the “Acoustic Lab Chamber” at the corner of the booth – see a few threads below). That is exactly what the DNA of the brand is, and that is one big theme. And in general, we think this year the brand has really reached the “mile stone”, this booth is how really we want the brand to look, and the same goes for the boutiques as well. The boutiques has the same concept, the same message, and the same way of communication. So, we have reached now the “cruising altitude”, and everything is aligned and clear, we talk about what we want to talk about – that is the big theme.
We have two other themes – one is the Exceptional Concept Watch, a minute repeater, and another is women’s watches with several novelties.
Mr. Tayler checking my 5402ST with his new 15202. (oops… the lady behind him is….!)
KIH: Do you have any plan, what to do next or what NOT to do?
TS: Yes. This whole effort in the booth, for example, is one big result of what we want to do more of. So, in general, as you have already seen, we are focusing more and more on the brand itself. We have extremely fascinating stories IN the brand. We have incredible craftsman IN-HOUSE. We need to talk about that more and more, in comparison to having the external Partnership and Ambassadors. I would say, there would be a continued focus on talking about the brand. Also I believe the keyword is “continuity”. We want to avoid “changing directions” too often. We know exactly how we want to look, and we want to keep it fresh. We don’t want to change the message every 5 minutes.
I think we have the quite unique place in the horology space. We are the only brand that has both the history, the mastery, and the tradition, but it really looks like we are from the 21st century who speaks also to the new generation of collectors. That makes us really unique. There are lots of other brands with history and heritage, but they are stuck often in the past, in terms of how the brands speak and how the brands present itself. So from that point of view, we have unique direction which we definitely want to pursue.
This whole topic of “tradition” and “innovation” – everybody says it. And when it comes to products, boutiques, this booth, our events, they are much fresher and younger, much more dynamic, much more contemporary, much more “cool” horology brand, for the lack of better words, and that makes us very different.
KIH: Thank you very much.
TS: My pleasure.
That’s it for interviews. It is very impressive that everybody I talked to share the same view about the theme of this year, the mile stone they have reached, and clear direction they are to go – most notably, in the long run, not short-sighted.
Looking more forward to their offerings.
Thank you, everybody.
Thank you Ken and the Audemars Piguet gentlemen for the interviews.
Indeed, Audemars Piguet is the oldest brand forum on PuristSPro and thus, the oldest brand-sanctioned forum.
At the same time, based on the confidence that AP now has with a constancy of people and message, they can experiment with cutting edge innovation of aesthetics and techniques.
Like they say, “To break the rules, you must first master them”.
This message has been edited by MTF on 2015-01-26 06:02:41 MoTo secure and the environment is so fast paced. Thanks for getting us some inside information direct from these gentlemen!
Thank you Ken for your effort and thank you AP for your openness.
My opinion is that the most interesting interview was the one with Mr. Tim Sayler (Chief Marketing Officer), while I think Mr. Octavio Garcia (Chief Artistic Director) and Mr. Lucas Gopp (Senior Designer) didn’t say so much… Finally, the interview with Mr. Francois-Henry Bennahmias (CEO) had given me the impression of a man with a strong personality, except when he wish to have less distribution and bigger direct retail sales, since these days it seems to be the absolute dream of every CEO, in every business, unfortunately…
Well put, heartbreaker.
One of Tim’s most notable lines is how AP can speak to a “new generation of collectors”. I think we see this with the watches and the marketing.They are closing doors AFAIK, and scaling back on franchise locations. In other words they are reducing the number of sale locations and improving the existing ones. Seems to be a general trend lately within the luxury industry.