March 2014

Running one brand is a challenge in today’s world where everything is a global decision. There are some who direct two brands. But, as far as I know, Michele Sofisti is the only one running three brands at the same time – Girard-Perregaux, JeanRichard and Gucci.

Michele Sofisti
Michele Sofisti

Europa Star: How did you start in the watch industry?
Michele Sofisti: I was CEO of Ferrari Germany and I met Jean-Claude Biver at the motor show in Geneva, and every year I organized a visit to a watch manufacture. I went to Blancpain and met him, and then a couple of years later he asked me if I wanted to join him to work at Omega. I said yes and my career in the watch industry started, in 1995.
I love watches. The years at Omega were phenomenal, working closely with Mr. Hayek Sr. and Mr. Biver was like the best university I could attend. After that, I was appointed president of Omega. I stayed in the watch business from that point on — I worked for LVMH for a short time, then I came back with Swatch, to be in charge of all Swatch Group business in China. To have a look into the most important market in the world was an incredible personal experience.

“I work with a lot of passion, and I work as a team player. I try to give the vision and a strategy very simply and very rapidly, and the vision is mainly based on product. If you have the product you have everything…”

What is the secret of your success?
MS: First, I don’t know how you measure success. Working for such incredible iconic brands, like Omega, Swatch, Gucci, Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard, it is easy, if you do good things, to have success. I work with a lot of passion, and I work as a team player. I try to give the vision and a strategy very simply and very rapidly, and the vision is mainly based on product. If you have the product you have everything, if you don’t have the product, at the end of the day you don’t have anything. I am very involved with product design, strategy and communication.

How do you juggle three brands? Do you break your time up into pre-defined periods for each brand?
MS: Today, the three brands are in different stages of their lives. For Gucci watches, we have done quite strong work over the last five years, which is proven by the turnover increase. The strategy is well integrated, so I can take a different timing engagement for this brand.
On the contrary, Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard need full activity. We are really rebuilding both companies. I dedicate and balance the time between all three, but right now Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard are in need of very strong attention.


How is business for Girard-Perregaux?
MS: Girard-Perregaux has been a big surprise for me. I knew Gino Macaluso from when I worked at Ferrari, and to take charge of this company has been a challenge and a great honour. The work we have been trying to do for the last two and a half years is to position the brand for the future.
The brand has been looking back into the past a little too much, but today we have to build the history of tomorrow, and that is why we are focusing on research and development and innovation in products, communication and marketing.

How about JeanRichard?
MS: We decided two and a half years ago to start again with JeanRichard. It has a long history, but as a brand it was a little bit all over the place. We restarted from the logo to the product and I think it has one of the most beautiful collections in the industry. The product is very strong and it is great value. The comments from the trade press, the points of sale and the distributors are all very positive.

And Gucci?
MS: The industry is very crowded and competitive, but we have done amazing work doubling the volume, increasing our numbers by double digits every year. We have a very strong foundation, we have over 650 shop in shops or corners around the world. We feel that we can keep going with very good product. Gucci’s creative director Frida Gianinni is a guarantee for Gucci design and development and we will continue to grow strongly.

How does your vision for Girard-Perregaux differ from your vision for the other brands?
MS: Girard-Perregaux’s vision is to be innovative in high horology. In JeanRichard, the mission is more to create very high quality product on an industrial basis to make sure we can represent a certain value philosophy. It’s really a lifestyle brand, we just announced a partnership with Arsenal, for example.

What can we expect at the 2014 BaselWorld?
MS: This year, Basel will be very strong for all three brands. With Girard-Perregaux, we will have a couple of new products that will be very welcomed by the press and our partners. In the core range, we are introducing many new references, which will finalize the turnaround.
With JeanRichard, we have a huge direction with new pieces in all four families of the collection.
For Gucci, we are coming with new iconic products, which are very Gucci.

How does the future look for the watch industry in general?
MS: The watch industry is the only industry in the world that has been growing steadily for so many years, and it will continue to grow. Everyone needs to have a good balance, distribution-wise, among the different markets. In the recent past, too much attention was given to China in particular and Asia in general. It’s much better to have a well-balanced distribution. This requires investment, but it needs to be done.

What are the challenges that the watch industry faces?
MS: Authenticity is a key word. If you look at the Swiss Made watches, we need to tell a true story. We are dealing with clients who know what they are buying, who have strong opinions, so brands have to be even more serious than before and tell the whole story. Otherwise, these clients will go away.

You have one brand that uses only in-house, and another that uses some in-house and some supplier movements. Do in-house movements really matter today?
MS: It really depends on the history of the brand. Girard-Perregaux is a manufacture, was born as one and will remain as one. There is no strategy for me to go with outside movements for Girard-Perregaux. We are quite proud about this. We need to continue creating new movements, like the Constant Escapement, the new integrated column-wheel chronograph and more.
For JeanRichard, we need a different positioning and we want to be between 2500 – 4000 Swiss francs, and at this price point it is really difficult to produce our own movement. We need to go with the most reliable and precise movements from ETA. We do have our own JeanRichard movement, but it is much higher priced. With Gucci, we average 900 Swiss francs, so there is no way we can use manufacture movements.

Read also:
The very radical Neo-Tourbillon under Three Bridges by GIRARD-PERREGAUX
JEANRICHARD – It’s all in the case
More on GUCCI

Source: Europa Star April - May 2014 Magazine Issue