Georges Kern: What I've Learned
Nobody needs a watch to read the time anymore. It is a piece of self-expression—like a painting or jewellery. It is an emotional purchase, and one that offers a link to the ‘good ol’ days’ in a digital world.
Humans are a social species. When the Coronavirus pandemic eventually subsides we will want to go back to restaurants and do sports and getting our hair done. We have seen that after SARS and the financial crisis that there is a rebound – people do want to get back to spending to reward themselves for the struggle.
On a subconscious level I think people will act differently. What was ‘cool’ in the past, will not be cool in the future. The idea of excessive luxury might be in particularly poor taste with millions of unemployed people. People will still want luxury goods and qualitative products, but in a way that is more subtle and low key.
Always walk through life with open eyes—read, learn from other industries and see what is going on around you. The changes we made at Breitling were not led by commissioning vast data studies, we did it intuitively. We looked at the world with open eyes.
The design of the 1980s Chronomat is iconic. When the industry was being hammered by the Quartz crisis, it was this mechanical watch that revived Breitling. Our newly re-imaged Chromomat is a modern retro version of classic model, and has received the best feedback I have ever seen in 25 years in the industry. It proves that great design lasts forever.
I have an advisory board of independent journalist, bloggers, collectors and retailers and we meet twice a year. For the Chronomat, we discussed the new designs and prototypes for ages – and 99% percent of them went with the modern retro one.
Genius design is like genius music. If you listen to The Rolling Stones or The Beatles today it is still as great today as it was 50 years ago. The Porsche 911 is the same.
There is a huge difference between being ‘cool & vintage’ and being ‘retro & modern’.
Before I took over Breitling it was a brand out of its time. It was all about big, macho watches with pictures of sexy blonde women waiting on male pilots. It was quickly becoming irrelevant. It’s not the customer who has changed in the past decade, it is society.
There is no format to creativity and productivity—if there was it would be too easy, as everyone would do the same thing. It is about creating an environment, and making sure the people you hire are the right people who thrive in that environment.
People should strive to be the best they can be. That is the right mentality. Earlier in my career, I was with another brand and an athlete we sponsored was at the Olympics. He finished fourth, and his reaction was “it doesn’t matter I already have a gold medal.” I immediately called his manager and cancelled his contract. You have to want to do give your best, not just for you, but for those around you who depend on you.
I really admire the attitude of [Liverpool manager] Jurgen Klopp. He wants to win every game. In last year’s Champions League semi-final, Liverpool lost the first leg 3-0 in Barcelona. But the next game they won 4-0 against a Barcelona side with Leo Messi in it! Nobody would have imagined it, but he inspired his players to believe because he refuses to ever think he can lose.
Weak people are surrounded by other weak people, that’s how they protect themselves. I make sure that I hire people who can do their job better than I could do it. My financial director is brilliant and a million times better than me at finance. My head designer and Sales Director are the same.
I was always a mediocre student and had to work harder than my classmates to pass exams. I always say, success comes from one-third hard work, one-third brain and one-third luck. So it’s lucky that have had 50 percent luck!
It is more important to learn about your weaknesses than your strengths. My philosophy is: optimize your capability. If you can add ambition and strong will into that equation, then you will be successful.