A few weeks ago we gave the aBlogtoWatch audience a chance to ask Jean-Claude Biver questions that we would select for him to answer. Less than three weeks later, LVMH publicly announced that Mr. Jean-Claude Biver was stepping down from daily operations, and the LVMH Watch Division (which includes TAG Heuer, Hublot, and Zenith) would be passed along to a new manager. Mr. Biver’s changing role is not a total departure by any means, though it is clear that the watch industry is undergoing major restructuring. It is also still relevant and interesting to see what Jean-Claude Biver said in a recorded interview at the end of last year on aBlogtoWatch.
Jean-Claude has graciously answered a selection of aBlogtoWatch audience member questions below. One strong take-away message is that Jean-Claude Biver is far from done. First, a question to him from me:
Ariel Adams: You’ve announced that for the time being you are stepping back from day-to-day operations at LVMH including your running of TAG Heuer, as well as your oversight of operations at Hublot and Zenith. It is easy for people to imagine what the result of this might be. Can you explain what prompted this major decision? How did your managers and team members respond when you told them?
Jean-Claude Biver (JCB): My decision to step down has certainly been dominated by a combination of different influences. First and most important I have been suffering from my health since October last year (three surgeries of my back and one of the knee) and I am still under Cortisone treatment at least until the end of this year. During my stay at the hospital, I realized that my body was asking me to slow down and I also realized that entering my 70th year since born my additional lifetime would now be limited to 10 to 15, or at most 20 years. It also appeared to me that my time to share and transmit had come and that you cannot be 100% active and occupied to share, transmit, coach, teach, and motivate.Ariel Adams: Help me understand how you will be continually involved in operations, and perhaps more important what will your strategy be when hiring people to handle all the daily decision-making tasks that you’ll no longer be responsible for?
JCB: I will act like an advisor and transmitter as I want my 45 years of experience to be shared and not just kept for me. As most of the people know me for so long, there will be no problem for them to have me on their side and they will perfectly feel at ease by having me next to them.
aBlogtoWatch Audience: How can a watch today still be “first, unique, & different?” What innovations do you see on the horizon that will disrupt the watch industry? If you could change one thing about the watch industry today what would it be?
JCB: If you want to to know which watches are still [first unique and different], you just have to look into a watch book or catalog and from a few brands you will find models that are first, different and unique. To help you I would suggest looking at brands like Richard Mille, Audemars Piguet, and Hublot which among the important brands are those with the most models and creation that are first different and unique. But you might also look at all the little artisans who are extremely innovative and showing to the world how creative our industry is.
aBlogtoWatch Audience: I would like to know what plans if any are being made to improve the after-sales service of your watch brands. So much time and effort is put into production, but repair/service times seem to lag, while service prices are increasing. The situation is increasingly dire given many brands’ refusal to sell parts to third-party watchmakers, ostensibly to “protect” consumers from substandard service or prevent counterfeit watches from using genuine parts.
JCB: After-Sales service will become one of the most important services to drive sales, as we will have to learn again how to best satisfy our customers. We must all learn again that our customer is «king» and that he wants to be treated like a king. After-Sales Service at Hublot (who has, in my opinion, one of the best) should always be directly under the President or the CEO, because this is the best way to get the after sales service the budgets and strategy it needs.
aBlogtoWatch Audience: What are your 3 best tips for watch collecting/collectors?
JCB: Buy what you can afford, buy what you like and try to concentrate on «quality» – as quality will never really lose value.
aBlogtoWatch Audience: How is Jean-Claude personally doing?
JCB: My health after one year of cortisone is now slowly (very slowly) getting better and I can see myself again 100% fit for Christmas (which would be a wonderful Christmas present).
aBlogtoWatch Audience: What do you think about German Watchmaking and German brands? Especially brands like Nomos.
JCB: I quite respect and like Nomos as it is a minimalist brand where less is more.
aBlogtoWatch Audience: What would be his best advice for a young entrepreneur in the watchmaking industry?
JCB: Follow your passion, respect the customer, be generous and don’t think about making money (because it will automatically come).
aBlogtoWatch Audience: As part of your recent work you, along with some others, have been bringing down the cost of watches with complex complications. Examples could be the TAG Heuer Heuer-02 Tourbillon, perpetual calendars from Montblanc and Frédérique Constant, or Habring with their split seconds chronograph. Do you think this trend will continue with low-cost high complication pieces that are machine-finished becoming more common, and hand-finished traditional high complications moving further up market?
JCB: A $20,000 USD Tourbillon from TAG Heuer is not necessarily a “cheap” watch. Because it is a watch that from the first minute has been conceived, designed, produced, marketed and distributed in order to cost not more than $20,000, even if some parts are made with machines, most of it is still made by hand. And at the end, we have an incredible quality as it is still the ONLY Tourbillon Chronograph CHRONOMETER!