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The success recipe of a Swiss luxury legend

Watch-maker Jean-Claude Biver takes time for IMD’s MBAs
May 2016

Jean-Claude Biver is a living legend in the Swiss and global luxury watch world. He is often credited with contributing to the success of the industry as a whole, which was experiencing decline in the 1980s and staged a remarkable comeback in part thanks to Biver’s leadership.

He is currently the President of the LVMH Watch Division and Chairman of Hublot and CEO of Tag Heuer. He was responsible for dramatically turning around the Omega, Blancpain and Hublot watch brands.

He recently paid IMD’s MBA class a visit. IMD president Dominique Turpin set the stage for Biver’s talk promising that “nobody will fall asleep.”

Biver shared a number of his secrets to success with the up-and-coming execs at IMD:

On how he learned to stay ahead at Hublot – “I am old and I want to stay young. You can only stay young when you can still listen to people and learn, and when you have pressure on you. I started out with a bad brand so there was a lot of pressure. If you want to be successful tomorrow you have to stay connected with young people and above all to keep learning.”

On his grand vision for luxury – “I wanted to develop ‘disruptive luxury’. Luxury represents tradition, values and is guided by the old way of doing things. But it is boring if it’s just a copy of yesterday’s product.”

On his endurance – “You will always be judged by what you do in your last act, not what you’ve done before.”

On the importance of message – “In any product, the message is first. It has to be clear, easy to explain and easy to understand. A product which is not coherent with the message of the brand is like a picture in 1D. And ideally besides being coherent with the message of the brand, the product must also tell a story. Then it becomes colourful and 3D.”

On the most important qualities of a company – “In business how can you lose if you’re first, different, and unique?”

On how he’s prolonged his success – “I have used the same formula, the same theories and thinking, and have worked with the same team of five people at five successive brands.”

On how to market luxury – “In addition to current customers, you have to focus on people who can’t buy today but will buy tomorrow. People want to buy luxury to fulfil a dream or emotion. You have to focus on the next generation and speak the language of youth.”

On smart watches challenging the luxury watch industry – “Art is eternal but technology becomes obsolete. That’s why both will not compete each other.”

Another recent visitor to the MBA class was Nestlé CEO and IMD Alumnus Paul Bulcke.

Learn more about IMD’s MBA program.