Tuesday, 12 November 2013

From a salesman to CEO

Rado chief executive officer Matthias Breschan reveals how luck and passion played a part in charting his career.

Who would have thought that a calculator salesman would one day end up as CEO of a prestigious timepiece brand?

Matthias Breschan, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently for the launch of the Rado Hyperchrome collection, tells how he got his big break in the watch industry.

An Austrian native schooled in Vienna, the economics degree graduate landed his first job with Texas Instruments in France as a product manager at age 26.

"I was in charge of sales for new product development and this was the first time the European market had broken away from traditional black calculators to come up with colourful ones. Our target then was the mass market where we sold to big European department stores and mail orders. It was a far cry from the luxury goods market," recalls Breschan.

His first job eventually readied him for another managerial post with Alcatel, a mobile phone company in the 90s. Coincidently, the Swatch group, which also owns Rado, was making attempts to diversify into the telecommunications field. It had a joint venture with Siemens to integrate a chip within a watch to act as a ticketing device. One area of target was to be the skiing stations in Europe at which a wearer could download their tickets via readers and wireless contacts. Today, it is a huge success. But from an early stage, Swatch chose to give up.

"The main reason was to preserve the value perception of the brand. Then, mobile phones were sold at very low prices, due to heavy subsidisation. When this happened, consumers lost perception to the right price for the watch and the danger of destroying the brand became too big.

"As you know, the Swatch brand is aimed at the lower price segment which made it accessible to everybody. Realising this will be difficult to do outside of the watch market, they stopped," reveals Breschan who was then heading the department overseeing Swatch's diversification attempt.

When the merger broke up, it was not hard for Breschan to choose where to go.
"It is so easy to get passionate with watches," he says.

Two experiences sealed his decision.

"One was in a training class conducted by Swatch in which we had to disassemble and reassemble the movement of a pocket watch. This was when I not only developed a respect and appreciation for watchmakers, but an emotional link to mechanical watches," recalls Breschan.

The second has to do with the Rado brand itself. When he went to see the manufacturing process, he saw the strength of the group's industrial base. Seeing their capabilities to manufacture their own movements, mechanisms, cases, dials and ceramic, blew him away. One would be the high-tech ceramic composite Rado has researched and developed. Made by heating the mixed powders of the ceramic formula, this was the very component that pushed the brand to the forefront as the world's first scratch-proof watch.

In 2003, to test Breschan's merits, superiors put him in charge of Hamilton, an American brand they had just moved to Switzerland.

"My responsibility was to turn the brand around. Then, Hamilton was only present in the United States, Italy, Spain and Japan. The ambition was for it to grow from a small niche player to a worldwide brand. So, we started restructuring for international expansion by developing a new portfolio and reworking the marketing strategy. At that time, Hamilton had two lines - Khaki, which had a very military feel and Classic, an evocation of Hollywood glamour. We used these themes for the planning of product placement. Today, the brand is in over 70 countries," enthuses Breschan.

When asked if this had impressed his superiors, Breschan modestly quips the answer should come from the horse's mouth.

Breschan was handed the reins to Rado in 2010 as part of a succession plan. He has seen to three collection launches since then, namely the Centrix, Thin Line and Hyperchrome. Interestingly, the Hyperchrome is inspired by the discontinued Golden Horse collection dated from the 1970s.

At that time, Rado had yet to develop the monobloc technology, creating a seamless integration with the lugs and surrounding components. As a result, past models felt heavy to wearers. Today, the lightweight monobloc technology has allowed for greater freedom in design.

Speaking of the future, Breschan says manufacturing advancements in Rado's plasma ceramic cases have allowed for the creation of finishes similar to metallic surfaces without the use of any metal.

The latest technological development is seen in the crownless Rado Esenza Ceramic Touch, a ladies' watch sporting touch sensitive devices. Powered by a quartz movement, the Esenza is governed by software which detects fingertip movement, allowing time to be set through touch.

This is how it works: Four electrodes, at the 2, 4, 8 and 10 o'clock positions, are nestled between the movement and the monobloc ceramic case. When a fingertip influences the electrode through the ceramic case, it acts as a stray capacitor, modifying the frequency of an oscillating circuit.

Amazing technology aside, Breschan's philosophy is: Never be too in love with your own strategy. Or underestimate the presence of Lady Luck, especially when it comes to material development. In his experience, R&D may take as long as 10 years. In some cases, a breakthrough was achieved in only two.

"In the end, no CEO is better than his team. Without the competences of different departments to do the research and development of the movements, materials and electronics, one can never bring out a production. The constant challenge is to push oneself to move forward, to continuously innovate and invent. The day you stop is the day you will kill the brand," he concludes.

[Source : Asia  News Network]

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