-The Esquire 100 - Max Busser
The maverick watchmaker explains how in business, sometimes we all need a little help from our friends:
In 2005, I resigned as managing director of Harry Winston and put all of my savings into starting up my own company, MB&F. I invested Dhs3.6 million and thought that would be enough. Apparently, it wasn’t.
What became quickly obvious is that when you create crazy watch movements like we wanted to do, then things tend to get very expensive, and quickly. Later that year, I managed to secure funding from retailers in Singapore, LA, Paris, Tokyo, Kuwait and in the UAE with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons. They all agreed to pay me in advance, which was great because I now had money, I was working with great people, and creating the first horological machine, the HM1. And then in May 2006, the financial world fell apart.
The supplier I was using was facing financial problems (as were most people), the movements weren’t being delivered and by January 2007, when we were already four months late, the supplier told me that he was not even going to assemble the movement! I am an engineer, not a watchmaker, and he said “We don’t want to assemble your movements. That’s your problem.”
I had no idea what to do. It was 2007, and tourbillons, minute repeaters and the most complicated movements were flying off shelves. How on earth was I going to launch something to compete with that, when there wasn’t a watchmaker who had enough time for a chat, let along to assemble such a complicated movement?
At the time, I was driving down the Jura Mountains with my friend, an incredible independent watchmaker, called Peter Speake-Marin. He took out his phone and started to call in every favour he was owed from the most talented independent watchmakers in the business.
They had never heard of me, and didn’t care that in six months I could be bankrupt, but they agreed to help.
Ten days later we gathered in a workshop and got to work. There was me, the engineer who helped me develop the movement, Laurent Besse, and four watchmakers who had given up their very busy schedules to help me out. Our main issue was that we were missing 50 of the 465 component kits, and of the ones we did have, the assembly plans were missing because the supplier refused to give it to us. It was like having a massive incomplete jigsaw puzzle, with no idea what was missing!
We met every two months, and worked tirelessly together to try and solve the puzzle. For me, it was that or failure before I even made a single watch.
The whole process was like a movie where the cavalry arrives at the end to save the day. The money I had was enough to last until June — the month we agreed to deliver the first two pieces.
Thankfully, we managed it, and I will always be indebted to that little help from my friends.