A MOMENT WITH... Jean-Marc Pontroue
Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Roger Dubuis
Jean-Marc Pontroue, CEO of Roger Dubuis

He is the man in-charge of a young Swiss luxury wristwatch label with a world-beating mentality. Meet the CEO of Roger Dubuis, who has the unenviable task now of wooing the ladies to fine watchmaking.

On what women want:
“Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t tell you. I would be very successful (Laughs). I don’t think there is a definite answer to what women want. We didn’t do a big survey to find out. It is not possible to work like that… you can probably do that in consumer goods – like this cigarette packaging is better than this one – but not in the luxury business.”

On cultivating an interest in women’s wristwatches for the brand:
“Velvet (women’s wristwatch collection) was launched five years ago and no one placed their trust in it, including me. The male products were getting the main support. But Velvet had 20 per cent of our total sales without us having to do anything. Two years ago, we asked why we weren’t supporting a collection that has been working out for us. And what would happen if we supported it? That’s why we started to think that this year, we didn’t want to just speak a little about the male wristwatches and a little about the female wristwatches. We wanted to make it ladies only.”

On not dumbing down watchmaking for women:
“In regards to how we make ladies watches, it is the same manner as how we have made men’s watches. We still use materials like carbon. We did it with some complications like the retrograde date. Is it a complication for women? No! But we did it anyway.”

On how automobile companies play a vital role in his research:
“I am seeing what Ferrari and Porsche are doing to reach out to women. You know about 40 per cent of Porsche’s cars are driven by women. But it is a very male, macho product. Mercedes, for instance, don’t make their cars in pink just to appeal to women either. I look at their movies, marketing, what they do and what they don’t do, who is speaking about it in women’s magazines, how they are presenting the brand when it comes to this, is it a male voice trying to convey the message to women… You will learn so much more from other industries than just looking at other watch brands. Today, you have Rolls Royce and they are doing 100 per cent of their cars by custom order. Two years ago, Roger Dubuis had no custom orders, and this year, it is 10 per cent of our business. If they can do it at a high price point, then why can’t we provide the same service at a high price point too?”

On why women are important to the success of Roger Dubuis:
“We have women in our marketing and creative team. And to create a brand successful, I believe that it shouldn’t only be managed by men. You need to have a share of women in your company to understand what women want. If you want to be strong in China, you’ve got to have a fair share of Chinese in the company. You cannot just pretend to understand that market. We cannot just have French or Swiss people handling China. Who is better than the Chinese to understand China?”

On brands breaking out from their bracket and being honest:
“There are some brands who have already been identified from the beginning as male and that’s very difficult to break out of. I don’t believe a brand can be strong in every category. It is important that if you want to be strong, you stay in that one category and don’t try to play different games. You do see many failures today in the industry. You don’t make a men’s watch and then say it is for women.”

On being a young label:
“We have an edge that helps us. We aren’t a few hundred years old. We are only 21 years old in the business. You see all the success of smaller brands because they are strong in their area. And Roger Dubuis is part of these brands. We don’t want to be so big, and we don’t have the capacity to. Our expression has to be different.”

On how fine watchmaking customers parallel with those of haute couture:
“We have a niche market who can afford Roger Dubuis and who don’t want the big brands. My first job was in the haute couture business with Givenchy. In the haute couture business, the worst thing that can happen is to sell a lady a dress that another lady is wearing at the same dinner venue – because she wanted something unique to begin with. It is the same in this business – they don’t want to be wearing the same watch as everyone else at the table. It is something that only highly sophisticated people start to recognise. Working for high-end customers is very demanding. Price is not the first aspect they are interested in; they are interested in creativity and quality of service. It is whether you would go the extra mile for them. It is not just offering a glass of Champagne when you’re buying a tourbillon watch. What is the most fascinating thing is that the customers are just as demanding in haute couture and watches.”

On expanding the brand in a tough economy:
“I won’t try and lie to you. What is happening today (in regards to store openings), we had to make the decision at least two years ago. We are a young brand. We opened our stores in the US only last November. All the brands have boutiques in New York and we just opened ours. Is it a problem to do that during the crisis? I don’t know. But all I know is that if we want to be strong in the US, we must have a store in New York – without question. We opened our first store in Tokyo in November. Japan is one of the top five markets for the brand and we didn’t have any stores in Tokyo. We are building the brand, we have not delayed anything. We have reduced our exposure in Macau, one store has been stopped but only because we already have three stores there. So far, we are not changing the principles of the brand.”

On his biggest accomplishment after five years at Roger Dubuis:
“Gaining market share against others. If you have a Kenyan runner infront of you, you don’t try and beat him, he is going to outlast you anyway. (The question is) how much further are you away from them? When I review the performance with the team, it is not just about the turnover – that of course is important. I am also looking at how fast we are growing in comparison to our competitors. The good part of working in the group is that no one can bullshit you about their performance.”

On what makes a successful company:
“What is easy about my job is that we do simple things. We don’t have to be better than anybody else. How you make your business successful is to make decisions as though the company is yours. For example, I don’t like politics. It will kill a company. It is not made for a country and a company. This is where your style has to make a difference. If you were to hire someone and that person is playing politics, then I would fire them without batting an eye. Even if that person is successful in their job, I would do it. Politics have a direct influence to your organisation. If you have time for it, that means you are not occupied enough or you are not good enough.”

On the pitfalls of the luxury wristwatch industry:
“(The industry is) overproducing and overexpanding. The first thing about luxury is rarity. You have to make something that is an experience in itself. When I go to Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo… there are too many stores selling at steep discounts. Go to the internet and you can see how many watches you can get at discounted prices. I think the biggest risk is the lack of managing your numbers. We shouldn’t lie to each other and we should limit the production. Customers are loyal to your brand if you don’t lie.”

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