When Stephen Urquhart stepped down from his position as President and CEO of Omega, the Swiss watch company decided to promote from within. Raynald Aeschlimann had been with Omega for 20 years, which meant he’d been able to absorb the culture of the company under Urquhart’s direction and participate in its drastic transformation and revitalisation during the Jean-Claude Biver era. Omega’s decision to appoint Aeschlimann to the top post, instead of turning to an executive outside of the Swatch Group, or, even, outside the watch industry, is a strong vote for stability.
However, Aeschlimann does not shy away from controversy, and in one of his first big media appearances as the Omega CEO, an interview in the Financial Times, he distinguished himself as a brave leader, both conscious of past errors and clearly aware of the direction in which he wants to take the company. In his own words, he is “not there to sell watches but to make people enjoy watches.” His passion for Omega, where he has spent the majority of his career, his candid and open manner of conversation, and his weakness for all-black watches have already drawn direct comparisons to Mr. Biver. But as we found out last week, when Aeschlimann visited London, Omega’s new chief is very much his own man.
What makes Omega special, in your eyes?Â
Oh, so, so many things! First of all, the pioneering spirit of the company. And our huge legacy, which means we also have a huge responsibility. We are not a small company. We are one of the leaders when it comes to industrial watchmaking. There’s integrity in who we are. There’s passion. If we’ve been with James Bond and Cindy Crawford for 20+ years, it’s not because we’re stuck in our ways. It’s because we like to be surrounded by people with certain values. If we’re in the position we are in today, it’s because consumers have been very loyal to us, and very keen to understand what we do, what the co-axial is, what METAS stands for, why ceramic is an interesting material to work with.
What are the company’s biggest strengths?
They are the ones everyone knowns about today. Our universal presence; we are in every major market and in every major market we can be found in multiple locations. If you look here in London, we have seven stores. So we are a very dynamic and business oriented company. And then we are four very solid lines. We are not mono-product. We are multi-product, which is not the case for very many of the big luxury companies in our industry. Those lines
What mistakes has Omega made during that time?Â
You know, when you have passionâ¦sometimes when you have a lot of passion, you want things to move very quickly. And it’s maybe true that in one or two evolutions we took some decisions too quickly. I remember very well, when I started [this position] 25 weeks ago my first meeting with [Swatch Group CEO] Mr. Hayek explaining the mistakes we had made, so why should I not talk about them? And I gave this interview to the Financial Times, but I wasn’t saying customers aged 40 to 60 are not with Omega. They are very much with Omega. But they buy new products (as opposed to products that came out when they were young), because the product we were selling in the 70s and 80s, that was not the right product.
You predecessor’s goal was always very clear, to catch up and overtake Rolex. Will yours be different?Â
The goal is always the same, but the point is to have the biggest following, not the highest number of sales. Of course, that means being number one (Omega is in second position in sales per year), but doing so with our own DNA. We have the ability to do that, definitely. I’m ambitious, we are ambitious and I will not deny that the goal remains the same.
Automatic or manually wound?
As the CEO of Omega [he says, smiling], I have the right from a historical standpoint to say both. But I should be the only one allowed to say that, because we sell more manual-winding watches than anyone else, on a daily basis.
Under 42mm or over 42mm?
Left wrist or right wrist?
Speedmaster or Seamaster:
Seamaster on my wrist. Speedmaster in my heart.
If you were an Olympian (Omega is the Official Timekeeper of the Olympics), would you be a sprinter or a swimmer?
A swimmer. Because I have a great personal relationship and huge admiration for Michael Phelps, but also because those champions represent what the Olympics spirit is all about. Athletes who train hard and rise to the occasion every four years to become national heroes.
Do you spend your weekends on the water or on the slopes of Switzerland?
Honestly, I do both, because I used to be a skiing instructor, but this Christmas I’m going sailing in the Caribbean. But my first passion is definitely skiing.
London or New York City?
How can you ask such difficult questions!? I’m a huge fan of New York City, and I had an amazing time when I lived there, but I dream of Berkley Square (in Mayfair, London). London to live, New York to enjoy.
Ocean’s Eleven or O Brother Where Art Thou? (both films staring Omega ambassador George Clooney)?
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