Can you summarize 2018 for Zenith so far?
Overall the trend in the watchmaking industry is positive. It was crazy for a decade and a half, and since 2014 things got more difficult, especially with challenges in Asia. Now we are back to reasonable growth. We have a long way to go, but we have strong signs that things are happening for our brand.
Zenith appears to be moderating its case sizes. Is this a conscious decision?
Very much so. I took time to think and discuss how we should approach the women’s watch segment. We are primarily seen as a masculine brand. And even though we do twenty percent to twenty-five percent of our sales to women, we didn’t focus on our sales to them.
There are three approaches to the women’s segments, and two of these are part of the past. Brands use to produce one watch. They would like it, make it smaller and then call it a ladies watch. This is in the past.
The second approach, which some brands have done very successfully, is to say we make one line, one product, dedicated to women.
I think today we are entering a different era. First of all, the difference between the women’s watches and men’s watches doesn’t exist anymore. When I was a kid, my father used to say there are cars for men and cars for women. Now this is not the same. How many men, like me, have driven a Mini Cooper? At the same time you see many women driving big SUVs.
So what we do with our watches, with for example our Chronomaster, is that we change the strap, we use a nice color, sometimes change the packaging, put some diamonds here or there. Then it’s a beautiful piece for women. You don’t need to change the watch, but perhaps add just a feminine touch. That is how you reach the women’s watch segment.
Of course, on top of that many women prefer to buy a men’s watch. I don’t think the differences are as clear now.
Was there any confusion between your Elite movement and your El Primero and where they are used?
We have four collections now, and each is well identified. Elite and Chronomaster, which are the majority, and we have Pilot and Defy, which is the new icon. The line that used to be called El Primero is now Chronomaster. We keep Elite for the Classic line. Everyone knows we have two main movements, Elite and El Primero.
So Elite and El Primero movements will also be found in Defy models?
How would you describe your leadership style at Zenith?
Everybody has to be onboard. When I arrived here I was very clear that we’re going to work together to succeed. I told the staff I would ask questions. I might ask you to change your mindset a little bit or alter your approach to the brand culture. I asked employees if they wanted to join me on this new boat. If they want to stay on the old boat, that’s fine but at some point we will not be able to work together.
But I gave everybody a chance, and for me to get to know them and for them to know me.
Some companies hire a chief happiness officer. And some of my friends in these big corporations tell me that this helps to raise productivity, reduce sick days and enhance appeal. I cannot have a chief happiness officer– I have to be that person. Richard Branson once said that to make your clients happy you have to make your team happy. Then they will take care of your clients. It’s so basic. They don’t have to necessarily like me, but they have to like their job.
My objective is to change the culture at Zenith. My job is to open them up and link them to our markets.
We have eighteen different buildings at Zenith. As soon as I arrived I organized regular breakfasts for all 216 of our employees. There I share everything I have learned as I visit our customers around the world. These help our employees feel informed and motivated as part of the team. And afterwards I always answer their questions.
At first nobody was asking, but step-by-step they got to know me, and now they always ask questions. One of our polishers asked me why we don’t have big celebrities the way Omega does. I told her we don’t have those kinds of budgets, but we are doing things to increase our visibility. Another employee asked if I was okay with my family because I travel so much. It was a bit of a personal question, but I thank them for being concerned.
This is just one way to keep strong links within the company and within the workshops. I want to be sure that they do not feel isolated, that they joined me on this boat.
How will Zenith work with the new LVMH Institute?
We are three brands under Mr. Biver’s umbrella. Each brand contributes, working on special projects regarding research and thinking about the future. This is a great opportunity, as long as we keep it backstage. The end client wants to buy one brand. They don’t need to see if we worked in common on some research or processes. Each brand has to keep its identity. For example, there will not be a connected watch at Zenith because that is not us.
Chronometry is our DNA. We have a long tradition of focusing on precision, so research into a new oscillator is perfect for Zenith. If there is one brand that can challenge precision, it’s Zenith. I will not go crazy tomorrow and do things that we never did in the past.
This collaboration (with the LVMH Institute) is very smart because we all benefit from our total expertise, points of view and experience. Many of these groups have their synergy, and I think that is smart–as long as you keep each brand’s identity.
How does Zenith handle e-commerce and the grey market?
I take this very seriously. This is a brand responsibility. If you sell watches where you know there is a real potential, most of the time you will be okay. But if you sell where there is very little potential, there will be problems. Also, you need to have a hot product because if you don’t people will want to get rid of your watches.
If they want to play a game and sell unauthorized, they get closed. So I need to know from my people how we do in each market. Is it a genuine sales number or is it one that does not reflect the potential of that area? If you see a problem you need to take action.
Vasken Chokarian is director of iW Middle East.