Cabestan Lionel Betoux’s long-term vision
It’s rare to spend an hour with a watch company owner and hardly talk about watches. But Cabestan’s owner-CEO proves that it’s all the more enlightening when you do.
Meetings and interviews with watch brand CEOs are often very structured affairs. Sometimes you have to submit your questions in advance, after being politely reminded that you won’t be given any financial figures; other times your interlocutor might speak freely, but faithfully present the company’s corporate direction, usually confining it to the next twelve months.
It is much more enlightening, therefore, when you get the chance to learn more about the person, their professional background, how they came into the world of watchmaking and what their long-term vision is. This was the case when I met Lionel Betoux, owner of Cabestan, over breakfast. As I handled the unmistakable vertical winch tourbillons I was treated to an abbreviated life story of the company’s owner, which helped to explain exactly where Cabestan is headed.
Most people would be happy with one MBA, but Lionel Betoux has two and was thus predestined for industry. He set up his first company in Birmingham (“it was surprisingly easy”) and went on to set up two further companies in the city, all supplying the local car manufacturers. One of these companies was set up to work exclusively with Volvo in Sweden (at the time, Ford owned Volvo in addition to local manufacturers Jaguar and Land Rover) and Betoux subsequently went to work in Sweden as the project manager of Volvo’s XC90 SUV. While he was living there, he had the idea of setting up a spa resort in the French Jura, which required frequent journeys to Switzerland’s border regions. It was through these travels that he came into contact with Rolex, where he ended up working in research and development.
He spent six years at Rolex before setting up a mechanical engineering company in Geneva, but eventually realized that his true passion was for the product, so at the time when ETA first mooted cutting movement supplies, he decided he wanted to produce a base watch movement. This led to his first meeting with watchmaker Eric Coudray who, rather than help with this project, suggested he purchase Cabestan instead. Betoux was against the idea but his business partner convinced him to look at the business plan, which he eventually reviewed and developed into a 100-page document. The deal was finally done in March 2013.
Cabestan’s production has remained very limited ever since, with a production of just 28 watches in 2014 and 35 watches in 2015. But Lionel Betoux is now using his experience in industrialization to take the brand to the next level. “When I took over, we had an inventory problem,” he says. “We had 80% of the components to make 80 of our watches, but did not have enough to make the watches we wanted or needed. Therefore we spent a lot of time to massively restructure the company, re-establish the brand, and be more client oriented.” As a result of his plans, you can expect Cabestan to evolve considerably over the next few years. Betoux wants to have the brand’s first own-name store in 2019 and already has a detailed plan in place (we’ve seen it) up until 2020. As early as this year, that could see attractively priced new models entering the collection. Watch this space!