Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronoworks

LONDON — Georges Kern, who resigned last week as head of Compagnie Financière Richemont’s watch operations, is heading to Breitling — and will not only be the Swiss watch brand’s chief executive officer, but also a shareholder.

Kern could not be reached for comment, but sources close to the longtime watch executive said he will receive a stake in Breitling in the low double-digits. In April, the family owned Breitling, one of Switzerland’s last remaining independent watchmakers, was acquired by the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. CVC took an 80 percent stake via its Fund VI. CVC said Breitling owner Théodore Schneider reinvested a 20 percent shareholding as part of the deal.

A CVC spokesman in London declined to comment Friday on reports that Kern was joining the company. Breitling also declined to comment.
In April, Daniel Pindur, senior managing director at CVC, said his firm would make Breitling “even more renowned, and help shape the future of one of Switzerland’s last independent watch manufacturers.” He said CVC saw significant growth potential for Breitling in “both existing and new geographies, by driving the digitization of the marketing and distribution channels in the company, helping to enrich the product and customer experience.”
Breitling was founded in 1884 and is based in Grenchen, Switzerland. The company employs 900 people and operates two domestic manufacturing facilities.
In tapping Kern, Breitling is getting a ceo who has overseen growth at some of the industry’s best-known watch brands. Kern was promoted last year to the new position of head of watchmaking, marketing and digital at Richemont as part of a major management shakeup at the world’s second-largest luxury group. Richemont said Friday it “regretted” his resignation, which takes place with immediate effect.

“Georges has been offered an interesting opportunity to become an entrepreneur,” said the company’s chairman Johann Rupert. “He has had a very successful career at IWC Schaffhausen and we wish him well.”

Going forward, the watchmaking, marketing and digital activities will report to the senior executive committee.

Kern was a Richemont veteran, having spent 15 years as IWC ceo before being promoted to the new position last November during a difficult period for the high-end watch business overall. Richemont was forced to buy back stock, make layoffs and restructure its operations to adjust to the new normal of a more measured demand for watches.

Earlier this year, as part of a shakeup of the watch division, Kern also became ad interim ceo of Jaeger-LeCoultre after Daniel Riedo departed on Feb. 28.

In a flash report following the announcement, Luca Solca, managing director at Exane BNP Paribas, said Kern’s resignation “seems to suggest that getting watches back on track is a difficult endeavor. We continue to expect a gradual recovery in high-end watches, which warrants a prudent approach to the stock.”

Solca said Kern’s departure also confirms his team’s expectations of “possible hiccups” in the new, four-headed senior leadership organization at Richemont. Indeed, sources said Kern was frustrated at times by the setup, which perhaps contributed to his decision to exit Richemont.

In November, Rupert eliminated the ceo position at the company and is relying on senior executives to run the newly reorganized Richemont. Rupert remains as chairman.

As part of the watch division changes unveiled in January, Chabi Nouri, formerly managing director for marketing and sales at Piaget, took over from Philippe Léopold-Metzger when he retired on April 1.

Louis Ferla, managing director for marketing and sales at Vacheron Constantin, took over from Juan-Carlos Torres when he retired on April 1. He will also become non-executive president. Geoffroy Lefebvre, managing director of operations for Vacheron Constantin, was named deputy ceo of Jaeger-LeCoultre.

In January, at the SIHH watch show in Geneva, IWC gave Kern a big farewell during an event highlighting IWC’s new Da Vinci range of women’s watches.

The celebrity guests included “Westworld” star James Marsden, Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek” fame, Vanessa Redgrave and Isabelle Huppert, Formula 1 motor racing champions Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, as well as Adriana Lima and Karolina Kurkova.

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