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Breaking news: Stéphane Linder departs TAG Heuer

TAG Heuer has just announced that CEO Stéphane Linder has resigned after 18 months at the helm. Linder’s 21-year career started at TAG Heuer in 1993 and he played a key role in the development of several model lines (working on the Kirium and 6000 ranges), as well as some of TAG Heuer’s early work in haute horlogerie with the Monaco V4.

The President of LVMH’s watch division, Jean-Claude Biver, will act as interim-CEO until a permanent replacement is appointed.

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Stéphane Linder- now former CEO of TAG Heuer

Analysis

Stéphane Linder at the opening of Chenez in November 2013

Linder’s time in charge was turbulent and his resignation will surprise few observers. It’s almost exactly a year since we met Stéphane at the launch of the Calibre 1969 (CH80) movement at the new factory in Chevenez (above), a day of triumph for TAG Heuer as its first true in-house production calibre was announced.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the arrival of J.C Biver in March 2014 changed the landscape for Linder. Despite showing off the renamed Calibre CH80 at Basel, the “delay” of the production-ready movement was announced three months later. We told you at the time that this was likely to be a long-term delay, and nothing since has changed our view. Perhaps of greater significance were reports of a “change in TAG Heuer strategy”, reported as Biver’s vision to reposition TAG Heuer at lower price points.

When we spoke to Linder, he explained that this would not see specific models downgraded in price or specifications, but that lower-priced models (e.g. the new Formula 1 Series) would be added to the range to complement the existing range and keep the average selling price of the brand constant for the next couple of years. He recently confirmed to Calibre 11 the intention to continue offering premium El Primero-powered models in the TAG Heuer range and the continuance of the haute horlogerie projects. Whether these continue is obviously now in question.

Jean-Claude Biver and Patrick Dempsey

The change in leadership will likely have little to no impact on TAG Heuer’s 2015 range, because not only was Biver involved in approving the new range, but the details of the novelties is now confirmed and finalised. The hysterical reports of a financial crisis at TAG Heuer (due to job cuts at Chevenez) have been well and truly overplayed- but there clearly was a crisis of leadership and one that has at least been resolved with today’s announcement. Having a CEO and (effective) Chairman with a different vision for a business is simply untenable and bad for everyone.

Speculation has already begun on the likely replacement- and opinion is divided. While watch-insider.com opined that Guy Sémon could be the next CEO, over at Quill & Pad the speculation was that Sémon could soon follow Linder out of TAG Heuer. Stéphane Linder’s departure means that both Zenith and TAG Heuer have seen CEO changes since Biver’s arrival and the early betting is that the new CEO will be someone who has worked with Biver before, just as with Zenith’s appointment of Aldo Magada.

One potential candidate is Michele Sofisti, who coincidentally left his position as CEO of Gucci Watches 10 days ago. Sofisti was CEO of Ferrari Germany before meeting Biver and joining Swatch Group in 1995 where he worked at the Swatch and Omega brands. He is also known to LVMH, where he headed up Fred Jewellers and Christian Dior Watches. In addition to being CEO of Gucci Watches, Michele was also CEO of Sowind Group, which includes Jean Richard and Girard-Perregaux.

Jean-Claude Biver has a well-earned reputation in the industry for success, and there can be no doubting that he is now firmly in charge and accountable for the long-term futures of both TAG Heuer and Zenith (in addition, of course to Hublot). From the perspective of TAG Heuer and Heuer collectors, the achievements of Biver prior to 2014 are somewhat irrelevant and it is his long-term contribution to TAG Heuer that matters.

The old saying is that a good boss is one who leaves the company in a better position than when he arrived, and given the changes at TAG Heuer since his arrival in early 2014, there is some way to go before that test can be passed.

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 TAG Heuer Forums

  • Ryan

    I suppose with Biver in charge we can expect some hideous oversized monstrosities in the TAG pipeline.

    • Bobby

      Would you call Omega’s AP and Blancpain hideous oversized monstrosities? He turned those brands around. Biver’s Career does not start and end with Hublot

  • Azmi Afyouni

    Let’s hope the brand doesn’t go down the fashion watches stream and remain a timepiece.

    • Bobby

      The first thing JCB did as Head of LVMH watches was to get rid of TH mobile phones and accessories. I hardly doubt that its going down the fashion route.

      • calibre11

        And I agree 100% with him on the accessories side of things. J-C Babin wanted to turn TAG Heuer into a Swiss luxury brand, something I’ve never believed in…TAG Heuer is a watch brand to me and always will be. That’s why you’ve never seen a review of a TAG Heuer mobile phone or branded luggage here at Calibre 11.

  • Guest

    This is a tragic step backward for a venerable manufacture of fine timepieces, which has worked tirelessly to upscale its offerings to compete with the best in the industry. The decision to withhold the CH-80 movement and redefine Tag Heuer as an “entry level” product–capriciously with arbitrary price points–hurts Tag Heuer, but also LVMH, and its other manufactures, Zenith and Hublot by restricting healthy in-house competition and innovation. Why not simply acquire another manufacture to appeal to the intended market?

    • Bobby

      Biver keeps stressing that the CH80 and HH is on hold. He feels that TH are in no mans land at the moment, negleting the $2k – $4k market and not really making a dent in the +$8k market. Its easier to spend $10k on a Zenith then to spend that amount on a TH. Hence why is he giving each brand a focus. It makes sense and once TH somewhat dominate again, the refocus will begin on higher end watches. until then, we wait with our fingers crossed that this great brand has not regressed.

  • Jorge

    Layoffs take place for a reason, sales have not been strong and action is needed. I can’t find an excuse to buy any TAG model today and I’ve been a fan for two decades.
    The band and clasp on current TAGs are among the worst in their price range. The hands are uninspiring and the constant design changes leave one to wonder if they have paid any attention to their own history. Pick up a Tudor Pelagos and compare to a TAG 500m Aquaracer. The quality gap between the TAG and Tudor given the $1K price difference is offensive. The TAG feels and looks like it should cost about half as much as it does. Yes, change is desperately needed.

    • Bobby

      I hear you. The the lower end product took a back seat whilst millions was spent on R&D for HH and In house movements. Now that those millions will be spent back on the mainline product, I expect the collections to improve.

    • Julius Nagendranath

      I totally agree with Jorge. A TH Aquaracer calibre 5 300 m doesn’t even feel like a luxury watch at a price tag of $2,600. The bracelet and clasp feels cheap. TH 3 point link bracelets have been legendary and the new crop doesn’t give a good feel. I would rather wait more to pick up a Planet Ocean.

  • calibre11

    Swiss watch sales have softened- no question. That, combined with the decision on the CH80, is why TAG Heuer cut ~40 jobs. Same reason why Richemont has introduced a shorter work week for some of its factories. I still think there has been an over-reaction to these financial issues (there is still growth…just not as much of it!)- where there clearly needs to be a focus is on product.

    Jorge, agree with you to an extent. I’ve written before about the bands and clasps on the F1 range, and agree that they aren’t what I’d expect- and they can’t be that expensive that spending an extra $50 per watch wouldn’t make a big, big difference. However, the clasp on my Carrera is just as good if not better than my JLC memovox, as is the overall quality, including finishing.

    The latest news (from veryimportantwatches.com) is that Haute Horlogerie will continue and be split into two businesses- Haute Horlogerie and Haute Technologie, with Guy Semon heading these areas. HH will continue as is (although only the Monaco V4 was specifically mentioned), while HT will look at new technology, including Smartwatches.

    For me, and I know I keep saying this, the proof of the “strategy” will be in the product…

  • Stephen Jones

    If this guy’s “vision” for TH and Zenith looks anything like what Hublot produces, weep now. Hublots make the very worst of the Nataf-years Zenith travesties look tasteful. Canning the CH80, and killing the Elite movement in favor of Sellitas, may only be the first in a series of blunders.

    • Fran

      The Elite movement is not being killed. Zenith whilst an amazing brand does not pull in much money. Therefore it needs to grow, No company would offer an In House movement for less then $5k.

      JCB also had visions for Blancpain, Omega and AP. Hublot had to be different if not it would not have worked. The money they are pulling in suggests many do like the timepieces.

  • Henry

    Looks like this is the route they plan on going…. http://www.macrumors.com/2014/12/16/tag-heuer-smartwatch/