TAG Heuer Re-orientation: ploughing a straight furrow
After the announcement last week that Stéphane Linder was leaving the company, Jean-Claude Biver quickly reacted with a press conference to present a reorientation of the brand’s strategy. WorldTempus reports.
The slices of cheese handed round at the start of the press conference were not the only product of Jean-Claude Biver’s long-standing passion for agriculture. As a teenager he used to spend his holidays working on a local farm, performing various menial tasks while his school friends relaxed on the beach on the shores of Lake Geneva. But his first taste of tractor driving taught him one thing that now comes in particularly useful: how to plough a straight furrow.
As Mr Biver takes on the role of CEO ad interim of TAG Heuer, the leading producer of high-end Swiss chronographs with sales close to one billion Swiss francs, the straight furrow that he wants to plough is one that picks up on the brand’s heritage, building on its exploits in technology, from its timekeeping equipment to the more recent developments in ultra-high-frequency watch movements.
It is the man behind these developments, Guy Sémon, who will be spearheading the new strategy of TAG Heuer after being promoted to the position of Executive Director as Mr Biver’s second in command. He will be responsible for re-asserting the brand’s position in the 1,500 to 5,000 Swiss franc price segment and driving forward development of a smart watch.
This does not mean, as many people feared, that TAG Heuer is abandoning the high-end watch segment completely. Mr Biver promised a new V4 model for BaselWorld 2015 and stressed that research and development activities at the brand had now been split into two separate divisions. “TAG Heuer deserves two R&D departments,” he said, “one based on ‘classic’ movements and one based on technology. Most brands cannot do this because the two are mutually exclusive for them, but TAG Heuer has two strings to its bow.”
Nor will the new changes mean any less innovation at the brand, as Mr Sémon explained. “We have had a lot of innovation over the past few years,” said the new Executive Director, “which we needed because it’s not something that you can improvise. We looked to this for adding legitimacy to the brand. There will be more innovation at TAG Heuer over the next two years than there has over the past eight years, and it will be more disruptive.”
He revealed that some 20 “high-level researchers” are working on various projects for TAG Heuer in a number of esteemed universities around the world but would not comment on whether the brand was already working in partnership with Google and Intel. “We are working on a smart watch,” he confirmed, “but we are doing so with modesty. We are not on the radar screen. Nine months ago I wasn’t a supporter of smart watches but now I’ve changed my mind completely. But we won’t be doing only that in future either.”
Mr Biver was keen to place a great amount of emphasis on the smart watch segment and did not exclude the possibility of acquisitions to help the brand with this major new development.
But producing such watches is only the first challenge. Whether the Swiss watch industry is capable of marketing and selling such products is a different matter and, according to Mr Biver, depends on how you define what a smart watch is. “If you are thinking of something like Apple, then no,” he says, “but if it’s something different then maybe yes. It will depend on what they have in terms of complexity. We may need other types of sales people with different experience.”
Meanwhile, activity is set to return to normal at the company’s new Chenevez manufacturing plant in the Swiss Jura, where the workforce has been on short-time work since the summer. The staff of 35 on the site will be back to 100% from January next year producing the brand’s 1887 calibre, for which Mr Biver would like to see production reach 100,000 units a year, without committing to a specific deadline.
Over 150 years of watchmaking savoir-faire and technical innovation have made TAG Heuer a global reference in avant-garde sports watches. As it tracked the rise of sports demanding increasingly precise timekeeping, TAG Heuer continually developed its unique capabilities through a long-term vision of what watchmaking is today, and what it will look like tomorrow.Find out more >
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