What Jack Did Next
On the surface, the story of Jack Heuer’s career is quite straight forward. From the time that he took over the running of his family business in 1962, Jack Heuer led a wave of innovation at Heuer- firstly through mechanical movements and later as a pioneer in electronics. Then the Swiss watch crisis crashed over Heuer, Jack Heuer sold the company and left the industry, before returning to what was now TAG Heuer in 2001 as the Honorary Chairman.
While this outline is accurate enough, it neglects the deeper story of Jack Heuer’s career- the wrenching emotions of leaving Heuer, his successes in re-building his career at 50 years of age and the contribution that he made to what is today a large multi-national business listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
So, in the week following Jack Heuer’s 80th birthday, Let’s look at the story of Jack Heuer’s career during the 20 years of his self-imposed exile from TAG Heuer- not to dwell on the sad days of 1982, but to highlight the successes that are less well-known. It’s the story of what Jack did next.
After years of struggle, the end for Heuer-Leonidas S.A as an independent, family owned firm came in 1982. Heuer had secured a significant order of stopwatches from a Chinese customer in the middle of 1981, and to meet that order had ordered a large quantity of parts from a Swiss supplier. When this supplier went bankrupt, Heuer managed to find a second supplier…which promptly followed the first supplier into bankruptcy.
Heuer was now in a difficult position, as it needed the revenue from the Chinese deal, and so the company decided to buy the remaining stock of the second supplier, which meant a significant outlay of what little cash Heuer-Leonidas had. As fate would have it, a few weeks later, the Chinese government closed its borders to imports, and the Chinese order was cancelled….meaning that Heuer was left holding a vast inventory of parts without a customer. For Heuer-Leonidas, it would prove to be the last straw.
Earlier this year, Jack Heuer told the story of what happened next to Laura Lovett at The Times:
“In 1982, my banker told me that I had to give up my shares for nothing… and I gave in”. “I had to start again at 50 years old. I had a wife and two children, and it was very tough. All I can say is to never give up. It felt terrible to have to hand over my family business and I was in pieces. I was screwed. For 10 years I couldn’t pass by our old stand at the Basel watch fair until the final guy who did this to us was fired.”
Yves Piaget, who had run the Piaget Group since 1980, now owned 80% of Heuer-Leonidas, with Nouvelle Lemania owning the balance. While Heuer would stumble along for another three years until the acquisition by TAG in 1985, Jack Heuer left the business and started on the next phase of his business life.
While you may have expected Jack Heuer to stay in the watch industry, he instead chose to join a relatively new technology company called Integrated Display Technology Ltd. (“IDT”). Founded by Dr. Raymond Chan, IDT was the first company in Hong Kong to design, develop and market an Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Alarm Clock. Following this feat in 1977, IDT began to manufacture other LCD products, including its first watch in 1979.
As the market for LCD consumer products grew, IDT, by now with 200 employees, began to look at expanding outside of Hong Kong and linked up with Jack Heuer. Jack was tasked with setting up the first international IDT Sales Office in Bern, Switzerland in 1983.
As IDT grew, it expanded into the healthcare sector, launching the first consumer digital thermometer. Today the company designs and manufacturers LCD products for other companies, as well as for itself, which it sells under its Oregon Scientific brand. Acquired in 1997, Oregon Scientific is the consumer face of IDT.
Matching this product growth was a growth in new offices. Under Jack Heuer’s management, new branch offices were launched in London, Paris, Milan, Madrid and Frankfurt, with Heuer having responsibility for all European operations at IDT. Jack Heuer was also an Executive Director of the IDT International Group, which went on to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1988.