Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann on his first year in charge
Since becoming the CEO of Omega in June 2016, Raynald Aeschlimann has overseen the luxury watch brand's successful sponsorship of the Olympic Games in Rio, the launch of the digital initiative Speedy Tuesday, and the introduction of a new Chronometre certification. Esquire Middle East caught up with the man to reflect on his first year in the hot seat.
Esquire: Last year must have been quite a landmark one for you, with your promotion to CEO and the Olympics in the same year...
Raynald Aeschlimann: Yes it was a big year, and it was a huge privilege to become CEO of the brand during an Olympic year. But more than personal satisfaction, it was great for the brand to have had another successful Olympic experience. While it’s true that the industry has been more difficult in the last few years, the Olympics was a great target to work towards.
One of the things I stressed was that, although things were more difficult than before, we had to maintain the level that we achieved in London and Beijing in previous years. We don’t dial things back — we are Omega and this is what we do. I think we created a lot of success, which has helped us to overcome the problems in the industry with less people traveling and buying watches.
Do you have a particular highlight?
I was particularly proud of what we did with my first big project: Speedy Tuesday. We sold 2,012 Speedmaster watches in 12 hours, to buyers who were spread all over the world. That tells you how strongly we are represented everywhere and how powerful and dynamic the brand is. Selling that many watches in such a short timeframe shows us that we had 2,012 customers waiting to buy the pieces. That’s not selling a handful of million-dollar watches in one year, it is evidence that we are providing something that people want, and therefore doing our job correctly. This is something I took great pride in.
There is a certain ‘go big or go home’ feel to Omega…
Absolutely. It is part of the spirit and universality of the brand. We are an ever-present brand, and one that not only competes globally with other watch companies, but with other luxury companies too.
Have you set targets for the next five or 10 years?
My team and I have always been driven by the desire to make Omega the best brand it can be. It’s not a company that can be judged solely on numbers — we’re not bankers. We have to continue to transmit our pioneering spirit to the customers. The goal is quite simply to continue the amazing success of the brand, and evolve the product as our customers do, because the brand has the potential to do that. Exactly what we did on ‘Speedy Tuesday’ — we created a Speedmaster with the design inspired by the classic watch, but with new technology inside.
The Master Chronometre Certification and anti-magnetism is added value to the Speedmaster’s heritage. The goal is to become more powerful, but to take that power and do right for the consumer.
You previously mentioned that it was a way to tap into the millennial market…
[Laughs] It’s funny, because I said that once in an interview and people have really run with it! What I wanted to say is that we are a universal brand; in fact we are probably the only brand in our price sector that has the potential, will and power to move about while keeping our existing customers happy.
It’s true that the millennial market is exciting. As a demographic they are sensitive, and are emotionally driven by products — but are looking for non-traditional and more creative ways of learning about the brand. We have the ability to talk to them via things like James Bond, which helps us become closer to them, but we also put a lot of stress on keeping our brand balanced, and for those efforts we are seeing success in reaching a new audience.
What are Omega’s USPs?
We are the brand that has the most value in terms of emotional, and pioneering spirit with regards to the Moon, and sport. It also has an aspirational value. People want to wear an Omega because it marries their values, not just because they can show off with it.
Are there any particular brands that you admire?
It is very difficult to compare ourselves to other brands because they are in different segments. For example we have previously been compared to Audi or Bang & Olufsen. It’s not us making those comparisons, but I am not offended by them!
At events like SIHH and Baselworld it felt as though most brands were being a bit more cautious. Do you agree?
Yes, that’s what I heard. Some brands are scaling back on more adventurous projects. That hasn’t really been an issue for us because we never really went outside of who we wanted to be. Perhaps now the industry growth has slowed down, brands are realising that consumers aren’t all looking for the more bling pieces that are out there.
How important are those trade fairs?
That’s a very good question! They are unique opportunities for us to meet with our partners and members of the media, but for a big brand like us — who are present in 30 countries where we can speak daily with our own teams — it is becoming a bit outdated. What I can say is that, with Omega, Baselworld is not the most important part of our year because we have such a strong presence and distribution all over the world that we meet our partners on a regular basis. What I will also say is that Basel brings a good dynamic into the company as a point of reference that encourages new ideas and new products — it gives us good energy.
It used to be a place where you show the hand-drawn designs and people would order from those! Now it is a huge operation with 30 sales rooms and five days of meetings.
There is a celebration feel for Omega at Basel this year…
It’s a big anniversary for us. The Speedmaster, Railmaster and Seamaster all turn 60, so there are some very special pieces coming to celebrate that. At the same time, we also wanted to be much clearer about how we will use our new Master Chronometre Certification, and which products will be associated with it.
What are the challenges over the next 12 months?
There are a lot of challenges in the world now, but people will always have strong emotions. My job forces me to spend a lot of time in airports, and because of that I see them as quite special spaces — it is a very emotional place. You see people excited or sad or curious, it’s a fascinating place to look and see people. The emotion is still there. What I want to keep very clear is the message of what we offer to the consumers is consistent and clear, because there is always a reason to celebrate, despite the world’s troubles. Of course, we have new products and have some big plans in the works.