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Watch History - 10th Anniversary of LMH Head Passing

Watch History 10th Anniversary of LMH Head Passing

Günter Blümlein was without a doubt one of the most charismatic and important managers in the watch industry's modern era. Today marks the tenth anniversary of his untimely passing.

WORLDTEMPUS -  1 October 2011

Elizabeth Doerr

Though the Swiss watch industry as a whole may not be overjoyed to reconcile itself to this fact, one of the most decisive and larger-than-life figures of the watch industry's modern era was not Swiss. This man actually hails from across the border in Germany – Nürnberg, to be exact.

The engineer's watch industry run began in 1980 as head of quality control at Junghans. In 1981, he began consulting for IWC through his new employer, VDO, mainly thanks to the fact that he spoke both French and German fluently and his understanding of watches. VDO Adolf Schindling AG – a German automotive group – had taken over IWC and was attempting to unite several brands under a “supergroup” heading to combat the Japanese quartz onslaught. IWC was in fairly dire straits at the time, having just barely kept its head above water during what is now known as the “quartz crisis.”

In 1984, Blümlein was entrusted with the strategic leadership of VDO's other brand, Jaeger-LeCoultre – an historical marque on the verge of bankruptcy – and in 1986 he was also made its operative head.

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Back to Germany

Naturally, one of his crowning accomplishments was to join forces with Walter Lange – great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolph Lange and a man who proudly called Blümlein a close friend – to refound A. Lange & Söhne in 1990. This heady project had him spending more time in Glashütte than his family probably would have liked, but the result is unmistakably something created by the hand of an entrepreneurial genius. According to reports from Walter Lange and others involved in rebuilding these brands, Blümlein had a definitive managerial style, but always respected his employees and gave credit where it was due.

He became the man to recreate three of the greatest names in watchmaking – and will go down in history as their resuscitator after having created the mini-division LMH (Les Manufactures Horlogères) within VDO – the ownership of which then went to Mannesmann and finally Vodafone. The Vodafone takeover caused the sale of the diversified businesses to Richemont. Blümlein's management style with regard to all three brands included an extreme sense of precision in planning and performing, unfailing attention to product design and quality, a professional approach, and – last, but hardly least – a consistent style of communication.

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In memoriam

Current Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Jérôme Lambert smiles with the memory of his former boss when I ask about what it was like to work with him. “He possessed some extraordinary managerial qualities that can be broadly termed as visionary – which is what everybody [who worked with him] will say,” says Lambert. “He defined what Jaeger-LeCoultre had to be, what IWC had to be, what Lange had to be. And today, we remain within the vision that he defined for Jaeger-LeCoultre in 1997.”

Blümlein facilitated the Richemont deal of July 2000, which saw Johann Rupert's company pay a legendary amount for the three horological brands: reports vary between 3.02 and 3.08 billion Swiss francs.

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This exceptional leader died at the age of 58 in Schaffhausen, ten years ago to this day. Walter Lange still considers him his partner and one of his greatest friends. Made chairman of the board of directors of IWC and chief executive of Richemont's specialist watch division after the takeover – which included other prestigious brands such as Vacheron Constantin – he died of a stroke allegedly caused by leukemia that had only been diagnosed six months previously.

“He was a universal genius,” Walter Lange says today. “There have been two luminous experts in the Swiss watchmaking industry [of the modern age]: one was Hayek, and the other was Blümlein.”

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