Hublot Genève: Expanding its Presence
Written by Kevin Doyle
Well-established across Europe, luxury watch maker Hublot Genève has in recent years turned toward the United States with boutiques in New York, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills and the swank Florida locales of Bal Harbour, Boca Raton and Palm Beach Island.
Hublot caters to an uber-exclusive clientele and crafts approximately 25,000 timepieces annually at its Nyon, Switzerland manufacturing centre with price points the hoi polloi may have difficulty comprehending.
Emblematic of its elite status, Hublot unveiled the world’s most expensive watch during March’s Baselworld 2012 Show – a $5 million white gold jaw-dropper laden with 1,282 diamonds that was sold to The Hour Glass boutiques in Singapore for display in their Hublot corners.
Now robust and innovative, the company founded in 1980 by Carlo Crocco had grown stagnant, relegated to secondary status as the industry heavyweights (Rolex, Franck Muller and Audemars Piguet et. al.) competed for top billing. Hublot’s turnaround coincided with the 2004 arrival of dynamic Chairman Jean-Claude (JC) Biver, who displays the symbol of his passion and boyhood dreams – a working scale-model of a steam engine he built as a child that his parents recently found and had rebuilt – prominently on his desk.
“My passion [for watch making] and the passion of my people are contagious. If you’re close to someone with passion, he will give you also part of his passion,” reasons Biver, 63. “Then everyone starts to get passionate. We have to be different. On every project, we say are we first, are we unique and are we different?”
Hublot has amassed numerous awards since the 2005 introduction of the Big Bang chronograph, winner of the Best Design award in the Geneva Watch Festival’s “Grand Prix d’Horlogerie” competition. Hublot’s Oceanographic 4000 won the Active Lifestyle Watch Award at the Starhill Gallery Awards in Kuala Lumpur in December 2011; and the company won the Walpole Award for Excellence in the International Luxury Brand category, presented in London in November 2010. Biver has also garnered numerous individual awards.
Power of Partnerships
Hublot added Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem of the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat to its stable of global ambassadors in March of this year, unveiling its Heat-themed King Power Chronograph. In 2011 Hublot presented New York Yankees’ relief pitcher Mariano Rivera with a unique Aero Bang Steel model commemorating him as Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader. Olympic and World Champion sprinter Usain Bolt is another of the high-profile athletes endorsing the brand.
Hublot is the official watch of Formula One and Ferrari as well as the official timekeeper for the FIFA World Cup (2010, 2014) and UEFA Euro 2012 competitions and maintains alliances with Manchester United of the English Premier League and the World Boxing Council.
Why the affinity for Formula One and Ferrari?
“Formula One is an engine. It’s an engine for speed, an engine for emotion, an engine for dreams and an engine for success. A watch is also an engine, an engine for the wrist, an engine for success,” Biver explains. “Formula One and Ferrari are like cousins and we also have the same consumer; we talk to the same people. It’s always better if we are two people to make an effort to talk to the consumer than just one alone.”
Biver has a well-documented history of conquering challenges. As co-owner, he bought and re-launched the Blancpain name in 1982 before selling it to what would become The Swatch Group (formerly SMH Group), then oversaw the revival of the Omega brand while at Swatch.
Crocco sought him out in 2004 and Biver jumped back into the fray, truncating a planned sabbatical. He scrapped Hublot’s processes, removed quartz batteries from the equation altogether and returned to the time-honored Swiss tradition of fine watch-making by highly-skilled craftsmen.
Within a year Hublot launched the iconic Big Bang that remains its signature piece with 35 models accounting for approximately 70 percent of annual sales. Biver finalized the company’s signature “Art of Fusion” concept first established by Crocco in 1980, the first to fuse precious metals with functional natural rubber. Hublot continues to meld classic materials with rare metals, ceramics and organic compounds to yield altogether different products.
“We were in 2005 very much like a start-up and we just had the DNA, a watch with the shape of a portal. So, we had a very clear idea and the DNA. Besides that we had nothing – we had to build the company from A to Zed,” recalls Biver.
“We looked at the product of 1980 and we face-lifted the product. We said what would have been the evolution. We made a simulation and we came out with this result,” Biver says, smiling broadly while pointing to the Big Bang enveloping his left wrist.
Given the choice, Biver comes down on the side of research and development over marketing every time.
“It is very simple – no innovation, no future,” Biver says, accentuating the point with a sweeping wave of his right hand. “If I have to choose to spend $10 million in research and development and $10 million in a new marketing strategy I will always take the $10 million in research and development because that gives us our future and that gives us deep, profound and solid substance.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.