IWC Schaffhausen CEO George Kern increased the company’s sales from a low of $40 million to an astonishing $800 million within his 14 year tenure as CEO. Now, after nearly one year as head of another stagnant watch brand, Breitling, it seems 53-year-old “business entrepreneur” as he calls himself, is on another path to score huge success.
Kern was appointed as CEO of the 134-year-old Swiss watch company in 2017 when CVC Capital Partners bought an 80% stake from Breitling’s longtime owners, the Schneider family. The company is well known for its pilot watches and for reinvigoration if not reinvention, while Kern plans to do the same across the board.
Robb Report notes that the first order of business is to simplify what he discovered to be a ‘confusing array of product.’ The 12 annual collections are now in favor of four categories —air, earth, wind and professional—to exploit order and create more easily identifiable styles. Breitling watches from past decades are providing inspirations for the new launches. “We have a history other companies would kill for,” Mr. Kern said. “Why hide it?”
Kern even launched a new name-dropping advertising campaign to further define the categories, while also bringing attention to the Breitling brand. “All companies have one ambassador,” he said. With so many companies taking this approach, “you don’t know what brand they represent anymore. Being different is the biggest challenge.”
Breitling’s approach features teams of three, #SQUADONAMISSION, while each member was chose for “their good looks, their positive message, that will attract the Millennials, and bring a message to people who have money.” The Cinema Squad, with Adam Driver, Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron is said to be the ‘most recognizable.’
Though women are represented in the squads, including Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore, alongside Kelly Slater in Surf, the product offerings will begin catching up in April when a women’s line launches.
“We’re missing 50% of the market,” Kern said. He is determined to capture the Chinese with its smaller-scaled models, in hopes it will become more appealing.
Aside from that, Kern also signed partnerships, while renewing one with car company Bentley and signing new ones with the ocean conservation group Outerknown, and with the Curtiss aeronautic company, who made the legendary Flying Tigers.
Kern plans to reinvent the 200 boutiques that he once closed and is opening and redesigning others with a new look which recalls a residential urban loft: wood and concrete floors, rough brick walls, black iron display cases, leather chairs, and props such as pool tables, motor bikes and helmets strategically placed to give the sense someone cool lives and shops for watches – here.
Kern says he has no desire to venture out on the world of smart watches, nor to go ultra-complicated and expensive. Breitling’s offering will stay in their price range of $3,500 to $15,000, with somewhere “around $8,000 to $9,000 being the sweet spot,” he said. While the watches will be analog, any outreach will be digital. “It’s the way to communicate to reach Millennials.”