TIME TO PLAY. François-Henry Bennahmias injects his witty and sharp personality into the business side of Audemars Piguet. The passionate CEO speaks of the company’s past and present to Chris Andre
Business with attitude is what separates the winners from the rest of the players on the field. Such is the case with Audemars Piguet, a leading Swiss watchmaker that has been around since 1875. The last four years signaled what is perhaps the independent luxury house’s most transformative period, from the way they slimmed down the novelties back in 2013 to taking the world by storm with innovative timepieces today.
The proud captain steering the brand through this daring journey is none other than the house’s incumbent CEO, François-Henry Bennahmias. During his last visit to Jakarta, he unabashedly wields the latest Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Yellow Gold on his wrist. That excessive golden luster is certainly an acquired taste, but it does find some resonance with how Bennahmias carries himself and how the house is currently doing: with style and success.
Bennahmias’ get-down-to-business way of talking, peppered with witty banter and generous amounts of laughter, lights up the room, and the house’s most exclusive pieces to date, not excluding the one-of-a-kind Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked watch, certainly adds fuel to the fire as we converse about men’s timepieces. It makes sense then why Bennahmias, who has worked for the brand for over 22 years and held the post of CEO since 2012, is the right man for the job, and why Audemars Piguet stands tall despite the recent economic slowdown. As a matter of fact, the future, in his eyes, seems brighter than ever.
Chris Andre: Given the current economic slowdown, how’s Audemars Piguet doing?
François-Henry Bennahmias: When there’s a crisis, it’s not that everything stops. I’ve got an art analogy. Say, Picasso had a thousand paintings and the art world is booming. So, the first painting would sell for a crazy lot of money, and the thousandth would sell as well but not for quite as much as the first one. If the art world shrinks due to a crisis, the top 250 will still sell—and perhaps for even more money—but the last 750 would either not sell or go for less money. It’s the same thing in the watch world. There are hundreds of watch companies, but I do believe today that we’re in the top five brands that are still performing well. When there is a crisis, people focus on fewer brands, but they don’t stop buying completely because of the exclusivity and the quality of watches we’re making. We [Audemars Piguet] are not making so many watches every year that the entire thing would entirely stop.
CA: This is somewhat in line with what you did when stepping in as CEO in 2012, that you limited the number of novelties.
FHB: At that time I wanted to limit the number of novelties for 2013 and 2014 since I came onboard as CEO in May 2012. Before that, there were obviously a lot of great things already. But, we were too dispersed. There were too many things, and the message altogether was not a perfect one. The proof is that, even though we already had 1,300 people in the company, we couldn’t get the perfect brand message from one team to another—like what the brand stands for and what our goals are for the next five to 10 years. I want to make sure that, no matter whom I talk to in the company, they understand exactly what’s happening. For this, we needed to do two things: Immediately throw away everything we do badly and focus only on where we do very well. We’ve already had a lot of good watches, so why do we need to do others? [In essence] it’s going back to the gym, so we had to work out before going back to the field. When we are ready, when we’re in good shape, now we can play. This is why we launched a lot of new things in 2015 and also in 2016. Now we’ve got a good game plan for the next five to 10 years. We didn’t cancel our creativity; we just wanted to take things slow.
Read more on the next pages.