ntrigued by a new non-profit organisation called SIHS (the French acronym for Subcontractors to the Swiss Watch Industry), Europa Star paid a visit to its headquarters on the premises of the adult training foundation IFAGE, based in Geneva. We were met by David Sokoloff, the initiator and founder of the project, and Pierre Hafner, one of the association’s six co-founders (of which Jean-Claude Biver is the “honorary member”).
“We’re taking our example from Henry Dunant. It’s a bit of a cheek, I admit. But we aim to be a kind of makeshift hospital for suppliers,” says Pierre Hafner, a former asset manager with a passion for geopolitics and social justice, now Head of Communications at SIHS.
An atypical career path
Before ever conceiving the notion of coming to the rescue of the supply industry and its threatened jobs (up to 5,000 in his estimation), David Sokoloff also worked in the world of finance.
“But I’m not a bad guy and in the world of hedge funds where I worked, you had to be,” he confesses with a smile. Following a family misfortune, he gave it all up, and through a friend who introduced him to Jean- Claude Biver, was entrusted with the strategic mission of organising the boutiques, logistics and POS events in the US, where Hublot was expanding and starting to establish itself big time. He successfully fulfilled his mission, even obtaining his heavy goods vehicle licence to understand how the costly US logistics network functions, and setting up an efficient modular system in which other brands began to show an interest. But a second misfortune struck the family. He returned to Switzerland.
- David Sokoloff and Pierre Hafner are among the cofounders of the SIHS.
He then realised that although he had worked for the watchmaking industry, he knew nothing of the actual product – watches – from the inside. And so David Sokoloff enrolled at IFAGE for a training course in Horology, a five-year course resulting in a CFC (Federal Skills Certificate) and comprising compulsory internships in companies. During those placements, he met all kinds of profiles: young and less young, highly qualified people, unemployed people... (Editor’s note: the Horology section of IFAGE, which has its own workshops, trains between 150 and 200 people a year). And little by little, he became the spokesman for these people in training or reintegration, and realised that there was virtually no professional association (except one local one in Ticino) to represent them.
That was how he had the idea of creating a new entity that would unite the entire subcontracting sector under a common emblem. The crisis provided a shot in the arm for the initiative.
Looking out for work
But how to proceed? The first task was to convince the brands, starting with those able to provide work in these lean times.
“We have strong arguments.” explains David Sokoloff. “Our premises are free, the work is done exclusively in Switzerland, our prices are very competitive, we offer a quality guarantee, participate in the local economy, help maintain skilled jobs, support training, which is a guarantee for the future…”
But, he was assured, the suppliers were bound to respond: “But you’re going to steal work from us!”. It’s an argument he’s heard before... “Not at all! The idea is in no way to replace the suppliers, just the opposite,” replies Pierre Hafner this time.
“The idea is to underpin them and support them directly by offering alternatives and other solutions, and providing work as well. If every brand gives one small crumb, the resulting joint cake will make it possible to act. It will make it possible to help employment, for example by offering alternative or temporary jobs, paid according to market conditions, or to find support for specific cases, to open up other avenues. The SIHS is like a field hospital, a relay, a reserve. Everything is thought out for the benefit of individuals.”
A non-profit marketplace
One central objective of the SIHS is, therefore, to become a platform, a marketplace, “a place to find new solutions, that makes it possible to redirect labour where it is needed. In the long term, the SIHS aims to spread throughout Switzerland by opening workshops, centres and local platforms everywhere they’re needed,” says David Sokoloff. “No one should fall through the cracks. Let’s try and work, all of us together.”
He is convinced of the merits of his initiative and has the strength of his convictions. He fully intends to come to the aid of a sector in danger of losing numerous jobs by generating new synergies, imagining new paths and seeking to create new solidarities. And by involving both sides, brands and suppliers, in a common effort.
His latest idea (which was suggested to him by an article in Europa Star): to take advantage of the great vogue for vintage watches by setting up dedicated after-sales workshops to put back in working order all those watches lying around in drawers, to restore, repair and regulate them.
That’s just one of many ideas being explored. Stay tuned...