WT: At the tenth anniversary presentation for Hautlence we saw a roadmap outlining the plans for the next five years, which undoubtedly require considerable investments. Plus there is the investment you have already made in the company, since you purchased it for 1 Swiss franc plus the debts. Plus you have your investment in H. Moser & Cie….

Goerges-Henry Meylan: Well, we’re not entirely alone for H. Moser & Cie because the previous owners are still heavily involved and investing as well. In fact, this was one of the conditions for our involvement. Of course, we have taken a risk, but it is a calculated risk. We determined what we were willing to invest and now it is up to us to ensure that it works. We have already managed to break even with this company that we set up only two years ago, so we are happy.

When do you expect to generate a return on your investment?
We would like this part of the holding (Hautlence) to break even by 2016. That is our objective. We can achieve this as long as the economy does not get worse and that our products are well received. So far this seems to be the case, but the watches still need to leave the shelves…

You have taken on two brands that are completely different in terms of their heritage and their products…
This was more by coincidence and came about through the contacts we had. We were looking around the market and we saw these two very different companies but we thought that they could be quite complementary. Firstly, they are not direct competitors and secondly we can exploit synergies “behind the scenes” by developing a common movement platform. This means that we can reduce the cost price on both sides. By the same token, we distribute both brands through the same company in Asia so that also creates synergies.

Apart from Asia, are there other markets where you would like to set up operations along the same lines?
We would like to do the same in the Americas. It’s just a question of finding the right partner.

And in Europe?
We are doing well in Switzerland and we are represented in France, the UK, Italy and Spain. Europe is not the easiest of markets at the moment. The best markets are still those in Asia, even though China has quietened down.

India is one of the top five countries in terms of visitors to our site. How important is this market for you?
We are present there but things are quite difficult because of the high customs duties and the fact that it is difficult to import watches into the market. So the people in the country who can afford to buy such watches travel frequently and therefore buy their watches elsewhere.

 

MELB-Georges-Henri-Meylan-epouse

Georges-Henri Meylan and his wife.

"The idea is not to build something up and then sell it. It is to pass it on to the next generation."

You named the MELB holding after your three children. Did you do this with the idea of leaving a legacy?
Absolutely. The idea is not to build something up and then sell it. It is to pass it on to the next generation. There are five of us in the holding – myself, my wife and my three children – and each has an equal share in the business. It was set up like this in the knowledge that I would eventually take a back seat. I will reach the age of 70 in a few months’ time so I think the reins should gradually be passed on.

 

To what extent are you involved in the daily business at the moment and how does this compare with your role as CEO of Audemars Piguet?

I’m the Chairman of the Board and I look at the figures every quarter. Of course, I’m involved in product meetings and such because people value my opinion, but I work extremely part time. I mainly have the role of a coordinator, bringing people together using my contacts in the industry, whether it is for production, customers or relationships with the press. It is basically my address book that is interesting for the younger generation, because this is something that can only be built up over many years.

Do you have plans to add to the portfolio of brands in the MELB holding?
Maybe. At the moment we are in a period of consolidation. These companies need to develop and if we start making money then the idea is to invest in something else. So rather than take the money the idea is to grow the company. There is no lack of opportunities and there is plenty of room between the two brands we already have.