Corum/Eterna First exclusive interview with CEO Jérôme Biard
He arrived without any of the usual fanfare. Virtually unknown to the public, with a correspondingly low profile, Jérôme Biard has nevertheless stepped into the spotlight since taking the reins of both Corum and Eterna on 15 August. WorldTempus met him in just his third day on the job. Exclusive interview.
Given that you’re a man who dislikes the spotlight, the public will need some time to get to know you.
Yes, I have worked in the watch industry for over 25 years, but I’ve never been in the public eye. I began at Richemont, when it was still called PBM, for Piaget, Baume & Mercier. I was there for five years, then I left to work for Vacheron Constantin, Cartier and Girard-Perregaux. I was global commercial director there, working alongside Gino Macaluso, a colourful character who taught me a great deal.
My most recent experience was in distribution; I was involved in establishing and developing watch brands in Russia and Turkey. That was back in 2009, which was a very difficult period, as you no doubt remember. We were nevertheless able to expand, working with lifestyle brands such as Daniel Wellington and Fossil Group, as well as traditional watchmakers including TAG Heuer and Corum.
How did your relationship with Corum come about?
Very naturally. I had already met Corum’s investors several times over dinner, in my previous role. Given that I didn’t work there, I was able to share with them my very clear and objective vision for Corum. They obviously appreciated that, because as soon as they heard that I was leaving, they made me an offer. They are very straightforward, direct people, with a keen sense of commitment and the importance of keeping your word.
Will this be your first experience with Chinese investors?
I don’t think of it in that way. As far as I am concerned, they are simply investors, full stop. They are people I know, who know me, who have shown great foresight, who love the brand, who recognise its potential and who are relying upon what they believe are the best resources to drive its development. And by “best resources”, what I’m mainly referring to is the staff in La Chaux-de-Fonds, whom it is now my pleasure to manage.
Yet, what position are these local teams in, after the Davide Traxler’s departure?
They are incredibly close-knit and dynamic. I was impressed by their cohesion, and their many talents. In every division we have teams that are working incredibly hard to develop a brand in which they have an unshakeable faith. We currently have 70 people working in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Are you going to continue with Davide Traxler’s strategy?
In reality, the strategy was put in place by the European Board. The work was well done; Corum has the wind in its sails from a creative point of view, which was something I talked about with the investors, even before there was any talk of my taking over. It’s a healthy company, both financially and in terms of corporate spirit. I have rarely seen such commitment to a common project, a commitment so personally upheld by everyone involved.
And is growth within reach?
Let’s go for stability first! Once again, the foundations are healthy, and the work done by Davide Traxler was rigorous and effective, which means we should achieve this in the very short term. Growth will follow. For Corum, that will come through our four pillars: Bridge, Admiral, Heritage (Feather, Coin, etc.) and Bubble.
Golden Bridge © Corum
What about Eterna?
With Eterna we are doing the same thing, but more comprehensively. There are many synergies between the teams, which means that Eterna will benefit from Corum’s expertise. We will begin by focusing on our brand leaders in highly targeted markets – Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France and the United States. In the first instance, we will concentrate on the historic pillars: KonTiki, Royal KonTiki and 1948. For the future, we have some interesting surprises in store, something younger. We will be making the most of Eterna’s Swiss German identity, but avoiding the clichés of cuckoo clocks, cheese and chocolate. We want to renew the brand’s identity, refresh it. As a brand, it has great potential. It’s easy to forget that, for a time, it was in direct competition with Omega, for example. It has to go back to basics and reposition itself in its original price bracket, around the CHF 700 to 3500 mark.
Are you looking ahead to Baselworld?
For Corum, yes, but even more so for Eterna. We have to manage our budgets in a clear and rational way. There will be lots of great initiatives from Eterna, but they will be targeted and tactical, with young, dynamic brand ambassadors. Eterna, like Corum, has the power to surprise, whether in the arts or in sports. Eterna will be a talent-spotter. Once it is on its way it will have its own CEO.
What will happen to Eterna’s movement division, EMC?
All in good time. Eterna’s main growth vector will be the brand itself, not necessarily its industrial capacity to service third parties. In the immediate term, EMC’s main client will be Eterna itself. In the short term, neither Corum nor Eterna have the ambition to differentiate themselves with manufacture movements. But, as I said, all in good time.
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