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.
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.
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.