Jean-Claude Biver (A): The Reemergence of the Swiss Watch Industry
In the early 1980s, the Swiss watch industry was near collapse after failing to adapt to Japanese competition from battery-powered quartz technology. In 1982, Jean-Claude Biver purchased Blancpain, a watch company that had been out of business since 1961 but had once made mechanical watches, for $16,000. After successfully reviving Blancpain, Biver sold the company to Nicolas G. Hayek (Chairman of the Swatch Group) for $43 million a decade later. Hayek agreed to have Biver stay on and gave him responsibility to revive the once venerable, but ailing, watch company Omega. Between 1995 and 1999, Biver led another turnaround effort that increased Omega's revenues from $350 million to $900 million. While it was presumed across the industry that Biver would be the next CEO of Swatch Group, in early 2000 Biver began to sense that he may not receive the top position when Hayek retired. At the end of the case, Biver must decide whether he should leave the Swatch Group and retire himself, or possibly start over yet again and take the reins of a small but struggling watch company, Hublot. The case examines the actions that Biver took to transform Blancpain and Omega, and how his broad vision ultimately transformed the entire Swiss watch industry. It presents Biver as a complex leader who at times could be very harsh on his employees, but whose passion and vision engendered fierce loyalty from those who worked with him.
- 2014 HBS
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