Jean Claude Biver, Swiss Watchmaking CEO Event Report

Best known for the remarkable turnaround of not one, but three, Swiss watchmaking brands (Blancpain, Omega and Hublot) Jean Claude Biver, spoke at a premium INSEAD Alumni learning event in May 2016. brands. His story is all the more remarkable because he was able to do the turnarounds working the same team and management executives for well over a decade. Read on for key takeaways and photos….

[aesop_image imgwidth=”400″ img=”” alt=”INSEAD Alumni CEO Event Jean Claude Biver” align=”left” lightbox=”on” caption=”Swiss watchmaking legend, Jean-Claude Biver, shared ideas and experience with alumni from both INSEAD and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. ” captionposition=”left”]
Entrepreneurship means being first, different, unique, and uncomfortable.
Jean Claude Biver said that he encourages his direct reports to live outside their comfort zone. And he means that mentally and literally. For example, he asks his direct reports to sleep at least once a year in their office on the floor.

You need to take risks and you will make mistakes.
When he arrived at Hublot in 2004, Biver introduced “mistakes sharing” meetings. Admitting mistakes to colleagues is part of the learning process. It is expected that you should not repeat the same mistake twice.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”400″ img=”” credit=”Graduate Institute” align=”left” lightbox=”on” caption=”The event partner was the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and it was held at the Graduate Institute’s Maison de la Paix in Geneva.” captionposition=”left”]


Stable Talented Teams
Biver’s success in watchmaking is attributed to his team and the Swiss ecosystem. He’s worked with the same group of direct reports for fifteen years, some even longer. He said that he chooses people that are better than himself in each functional area (e.g. marketing, engineering).


Switzerland: adaptable workforce and entrepreneurial
Switzerland has a lack of natural resources. It has none, which has meant that that the country has had to rely on its people and its entrepreneurship. “We have no mines, but have the biggest mining company. We have no coffee, but have the biggest coffee producer. We have no tall buildings, but have the world’s leading elevator manufacturer. We have no oceans, but have one of the world’s leading merchant marine companies.

Respect traditions but also know how to leverage new technologies

When he took over at Tag Heuer, he felt the company had strayed well above its price point. It is a midmarket, sporty brand but it was trying to compete on price in the higher end luxury segment. He repositioned the price points back to where they were consistent with the brand image, and at the same time automated much of the manufacturing, cutting costs, resulting in a great expansion of sales and profitability..

The Future of Swisswatchmaking
Very high-end, luxury watchmaking using the techniques of the 19th-century still has a strong position. He is a collector of Patek Philippes. However, the midmarket has to pay attention to its value for money and price points and move to 21st-century manufacturing techniques.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”400″ img=”” align=”left” lightbox=”on” caption=”Alumni gathered for refreshments and networking after the presentation” captionposition=”left”]