By  on January 8, 2012

PARIS — Jean-Claude Biver, one of the most charismatic figures in the Swiss watch industry, said Friday he was taking a step back from day-to-day operations at Hublot to focus his energy on developing new products and marketing initiatives for the luxury brand.

Biver stepped down as chief executive officer of Hublot, but will stay on as chairman and official spokesman, a move that analysts said should guarantee continuity at the helm of the rapidly growing company.

His number two, Ricardo Guadalupe, was promoted from managing director to ceo effective Jan. 1, said Hublot, part of luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s stable of watch and jewelry brands alongside lines including Bulgari, Tag Heuer and Zenith.

Biver said the transition actually took place more than a year ago, with Guadalupe taking on primary responsibility for daily operational matters including production issues, logistics, distribution, finance, margins and retail prices.

“Giving up the daily business as a ceo to Ricardo Guadalupe, the new ceo, will give me much more time for other things, and eventually if I now work 80 hours a week, maybe I will end up working 70 or 60 — but 60 with full pleasure and full passion,” the 62-year-old Biver told WWD.

“My wife thinks I will not achieve it,” he added.

The two men have been working together for 20 years and are close friends — their families spent last summer sailing around Corsica and Christmas in Crans Montana, he said.

A larger-than-life figure with indefatigable enthusiasm, Biver is reputed for his golden touch, turning around the fortunes of Blancpain and Omega before taking over as ceo of Hublot in 2004.

The brand has seen rapid growth thanks to the launch of timepieces such as the Big Bang and the Tutti Frutti, and the signing of ambassadors including Usain Bolt, Jet Li and Dwyane Wade.

Biver has also inked a slew of timekeeping partnerships with organizers of events including New York Fashion Week, the FIFA World Cup and Formula One motor racing.

Biver said Hublot recorded growth of around 30 percent in 2011, outpacing overall exports of Swiss timepieces, which were up 19 percent between January and November, according to the latest data available from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

“We had another record year. From the day we took over in September 2004, we have had only record years, except for 2009,” he said.

This year should set a new record, but with a more modest increase of 8 to 12 percent, Biver said, citing uncertainty about the fate of Europe’s single currency and a natural flattening of Hublot’s sales growth curve.

“In the beginning, when you are in a catch-up process, it’s easy to make 30 percent, but at a certain moment it’s like a plane: It goes up very steeply in the beginning, but once you are at 10,000 meters, where can you go? You have to stabilize,” he said.

“I’m hoping for a two-digit increase, but we’ll see. There is a question mark hanging over 2012,” he added.

Biver said he would be unveiling another major partnership deal before the Baselworld watch fair, scheduled for March 8 to 15, but declined to provide additional details.

Rene Weber, analyst at Vontobel, said he did not expect any change in strategy at Hublot as a result of the management shuffle. “He will still be the guy who runs the show,” he said. “It’s more about trying to have a little more time to himself.”

Jon Cox, analyst at Kepler Capital Markets, agreed.

“[He] is seen as a bit of an icon within the industry, and stepping back from the day-to-day running is probably part of a longer-term career plan. But the important thing is he is still part of the brand and obviously his inspiration and DNA will remain,” Cox said.

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