Lunch with Mr. Jean-Claude Biver
Illustrations by Sami Azaiez. Written by Oliver Lips.
The fact that a group of bloggers was invited to lunch with Mr. Biver proves once more that he is ahead of his time. The digitization and rejuvenation of the watch industry didn’t stop with the choice of international ambassadors such as David Guetta, Martin Garrix, Chris Hemsworth and Cara Delevigne or with the launch of the TAG Heuer Connected last November, it continues with the acknowledgement that there are other influencers and voices out there than just the regular press.
We had seen Jean-Claude Biver on other occasions before, at the HUBLOT2 manufacture opening in October (see here and here) and a visit of the TAG Heuer manufacture with Martin Garrix, but these events weren’t intimate enough to actually sit down and talk a bit. I always experienced him as an extremely charismatic person, someone who doesn’t enter a room unnoticed. Very lively, good-humored and with a distinctive powerful voice.
The luncheon took place at the Radisson Blu Hotel at the airport where at first we had time to discover some of the TAG Heuer novelties before Baselworld next week and after a while Mr. Biver joined us, dressed casually and by himself (I believe I had expected a PA at least). If I remember correctly he had just arrived from London. Moritz and I ended up sitting right next to him for lunch, which of course we were very happy about.
No five minutes into the lunch and he already shared with us his passion for The Beatles and his favorite song “All You Need Is Love”. He said the most important sentence is already in the first line of the lyrics: “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” While he talked I was astonished by how much he can read into this sentence, magnetized the whole table listened to his words as if we were at one of his college speeches. From Asia to Europe to America he tours around different universities and shares his experiences, knowledge and wisdoms of over 40 years as a business man, from starting off at a postal office to being the CEO of TAG Heuer, Chairman of HUBLOT and President of the LVMH Watch Division. The definition of a self-made man.
He looked across the table to Marine, International PR Director, and told us that he only surrounds himself with people that are better at their respective jobs than he is. He doesn’t understand why other CEO’s hire people less qualified for the job than themselves. That’s why Mr. Biver only works with professionals in their field. But in the end it takes one to know one as well as a strong leader figure.
You might find it odd, but he actually used to pay his employees 1,000 Swiss Francs if they made a mistake. He said making mistakes is part of a learning process, a process that also leads to innovations – that’s why he encourages them to not be afraid of making mistakes.
Definitely not a mistake was to listen to his youngest son: He advised Mr. Biver to take on Jay-Z as brand ambassador for HUBLOT as well as Cara Delevigne for TAG Heuer.
Apparently they were dining at Nobu in London when his son pointed out that Cara was eating there as well. He told his father that she was one of the most popular models at the moment. Mr. Biver than wrote down the name “Carla” on a piece of paper, because he hadn’t heard of her before. The team at TAG Heuer checked if she was already contracted by any other major watch brand, which she wasn’t, and that’s how it all came together.
Sometime after the main course I asked him what kind of music he listens to next to The Beatles. He then pulled up his phone and to my surprise showed a gigantic collection of Swiss folk music. I hadn’t expected that someone listening to The Beatles would also listen to folksy songs, but he explained that the Beatles-songs were all about the lyrics and from a past era where he was a hippie and lived in a commune together with his wife-to-be and others. They would all work night shifts at the postal office, sorting out letters and packages to be delivered the next morning. Since they were working at night and sleeping during the day they never had the time to actually spend their money. So a nice sum came together after some years and he was able to buy Blancpain for only 22,000 Swiss Francs – that’s what I call a bargain.
Christina from New in Zurich who sat opposite of us asked Mr. Biver who his role model was whereon he answered that the famous watch designer Gérald Genta was someone he looked up to. He told us an anecdote of a train ride along the Lake of Garda with Mr. Genta where he had asked him if the colors blue and green would work together on a watch face? Mr. Genta answered that it was a silly question to ask him and instead he should ask mother nature, because all the color combinations you find in nature, can be used to design objects. After that Mr. Biver looked out the window and saw the clear blue sky, the deep blue lake and a small green island on that lake. His question had been answered by nature itself.
Nature is not only a source of inspiration, but also a way to retrieve from the world. On his farm in the Swiss Alps he produces around 5,000 kilograms of cheese each year. The cheese isn’t available for purchase and is mostly being handed out at events and presentations. On several occasions we were also lucky enough to try his delicious cheese.
Sometime before the dessert arrived he starts the conversation with “I get to the office very late, around 8.30 in the morning” and I thought to myself “oh that’s quite casual”, then he continued, “before I get to the office I already did all my work. I answer e-mails from 3 AM in the morning on, write letters, do my “homework” and when I get to the office I manage, I’m there for my employee’s”. His door at the office always remains open, even if someone has a personal matter to discuss. He says that either everyone in the office can hear what you have to say or we can go to a café and talk in private. Funnily he also looks through watch forums online and writes comments to people who own an HUBLOT watch. Someone even asked him if he was kind enough to extend his guarantee for the watch? Mr. Biver then filled out the guarantee form himself and made sure the customer received it. He also writes 5 to 10 hand-written letters per day, because he finds it very impersonal to have a letter written for him and then simply signing it.
There are definitively many leaders and managers out there that could benefit from the wisdoms of Jean-Claude Biver, perhaps they should attend his speeches at the university as well? I for one was very happy to have been able to talk to such an inspiring individual and will not only take a fond memory of this lunch with me, but also the lesson that “there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done”.
Illustrations by Sami Azaiez - firstname.lastname@example.org