Rob corder

CORDER’S COLUMN: Breitling’s big mistake

It is beyond debate that CEO Georges Kern and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners have transformed the fortunes of Breitling since taking control, but they have not got everything right.

It is beyond debate that CEO Georges Kern and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners have transformed the fortunes of Breitling since taking control.

It could be argued that going back to the financial market in 2021 to sell a significant minority stake, rumored to have been in the region of 25% of the company, to a second investor, Partners Group, was evidence that the change in fortunes has come at significant cost, but I would say the additional investment was a sign that the Kern plan was working, not failing.

Breitling’s greatest hits

Rationalising a bloated catalog of too many watches was important.

Detoxifying a brand that sailed too close to misogyny until Mr Kern took over was essential.

Rolling out a global network of branded showrooms with a clear identity, mostly in partnership with expert retailers on the ground, is genius.

Aligning with the sustainability movement and appealing to a younger demographic — a work in progress — is smart.

I’m uncertain whether renaming brand ambassadors as squad members has made much difference, but recognising the changing face of celebrity marketing in a social media era has been important.

But one tactic that I see as a big mistake is Breitling turning its back on major multibrand exhibitions and sticking to holding its own ‘summits’.

Breitling should be at Watches and Wonders Geneva next year, or risk ceding ground to rivals like Cartier, TAG Heuer and IWC.

The way Mr Kern left IWC and Richemont for Breitling may make that difficult, but the summit concept is running out of steam.

I admire companies that choose their own path rather than running with the herd, but expecting everybody with a stake in the success of Breitling — retailers, press and customers — to find time in their schedules several times per year is asking too much.

It is also counter-productive from a sustainability point of view, which matters to Breitling.

The industry and press gather every year in Geneva for Watches and Wonders and see dozens of brands over a few days having flown only once.

Imagine the impact if the industry completely splintered and we all had to do 40 monobrand summits in different parts of the world every year. The environmental impact would be enormous.

Breitling appears to be aware of the issue because it has taken to holding events alongside the multibrand shows.

It hosted journalists for a day just before Watches and Wonders in March this year and held a major press event at Geneva Watch Days in August.

The arguments against global mega fares were all aired during the rapid collapse of Baselworld (a show I would want back had it not outgrown Basel’s ability to host it).

Breitling could go the Swatch Group route, and focus on smaller events catering to individual countries or territories, but I am not sure that would give Mr Kern the global platform he prefers.

Richemont might not allow Breitling into Watches and Wonders — that would be its mistake.

I, for one, would like to see the brand there.