Frédérique Constant Stas – Eggerding: the succession
The Frédérique Constant group is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The current CEO and his heir apparent, Niels Eggerding, were in Paris to talk about the present and future of the company.
Thirty minutes to cover 30 years is not very long, but on 25 September, the big anniversary evening, it was all the time available to talk to the media about Frédérique Constant’s current trajectory. The event was hosted in Paris by Peter Stas, company founder and CEO, accompanied by Niels Eggerding who, since 1 February 2018, has been Peter Stas’s Managing Director and right-hand man.
It’s no secret that Niels Eggerding, a veteran of the Swatch Group (Rado, Certina), is being groomed to be the future CEO of the group he joined in 2012, and in which he quickly rose to commercial director. He is still getting his bearings, and is clearly less at ease with the press than Peter Stas, who has worked closely with the media for three decades and is unfailingly composed, gracious and frank. The transition period is clearly ongoing, but Eggerding has time on his side: after selling Frédérique Constant to the Japanese Citizen group, Peter Stas is due to stay on as transitional CEO until the end of 2020. Eggerding therefore has 18 months to start feeling at home in the boss’s shoes.
End of an era
After the much-discussed sale to Citizen it was announced that the Stas children would not take the baton from their parents Peter and Aletta. One of them works in renewable energy and the other is in finance. “In 2015 we were approached by two groups, one of which was Citizen. I don’t usually respond to these offers, but this time Aletta persuaded me to listen to what they had to say,” recalls Peter Stas. “Joining a big group gave us financial guarantees and the possibility of expansion, as well as opportunities for technology transfer. It was a better decision than forcing a succession, particularly since we’d always told our children to follow their own paths – which is exactly what they have done!”
MMT, the seeds of the future
Peter Stas hasn’t sold everything, however. He retains ownership of MMT, his small watch development company. It’s not on the same scale as Frédérique Constant; with just 12 developers, compared with 200 employees, it’s more like a start-up.
MMT developed the engines that drive the Horological Smartwatch and the Hybrid Manufacture. Peter Stas has high hopes for it; his stated objective is to become the “ETA of smartwatches”, and an industry reference for connected watch components.
But it’s a long road, and the competition is formidable, with the likes of Swatch Group and Fossil, to name just the two main ones, also in the game. Indeed, Fossil, which operates 17 brands under licence, has just launched 250 connected watch references. It all looks rather daunting for little MMT. But Peter Stas is optimistic about the future: “Touch screens, glucose sensors, solar dials – we’ve got hundreds of projects.”
Hybrid Manufacture © Frédérique Constant
Going back to Frédérique Constant, Niels Eggerding wants nothing more, and nothing less, than continuity. The Stas family has left a healthy legacy, and the future CEO hopes to continue in the same vein. He concedes that the market “is recovering very gently, without fireworks.” Without revealing any figures, Niels Eggerding points to the “strong growth” of connected watches, “particularly in the United States.”
One can assume that the international launch of the Hybrid Manufacture in New York is a major factor in this. Nevertheless, even the big groups are willing to acknowledge that the smartwatch market is “very difficult”. According to Eggerding, it is Alpina within the Frédérique Constant group that is “moving ahead the most quickly within our connected ranges.” The obvious conclusion is that, for the time being, smartwatches remain largely a sporting accessory. Stas wants to bring them into the medical domain, something that’s definitely on MMT’s radar.
Looking to the future
The future CEO mentions just one milestone for the near future: “Having our new production factory ready by June 2019. Currently, we make 160,000 pieces per year. With our new facility we can increase that to 300,000 units per year.”
And then there’s Baselworld. Unexpectedly perhaps, Niels Eggerding is aligning himself with the heavy hitters of the Swiss Made establishment: “As things stand, we’ll be there in 2019, and we’re prepared to commit ourselves further into the future. However, if brands such as Rolex or Patek Philippe pull out, we’ll leave too.”
Frédérique Constant, in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva ©Frédérique Constant
Frédérique Constant has made a successful business out of offering affordable luxury, experiencing growth rates well above the industry average. The owners have a clear mission to make fine watchmaking available to the largest possible audience of watch enthusiasts at sensible prices.Find out more >
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