QP caught up with Jean-Claude Biver as TAG Heuer launched a new pair of Manchester United watches
By Chris Hall
TAG Heuer has announced details of two new watches in partnership with Manchester United. In a press conference at Old Trafford, CEO Jean-Claude Biver unveiled the watches – a Carrera Heuer-01 in black PVD with a black ceramic bezel and a Formula 1 quartz chronograph, also in black PVD with a titanium carbide bezel – accompanied by Manchester United managing director Richard Arnold and Manchester United players Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David de Gea and Ander Herrera.
We were there to speak to Mr Biver about the partnership, his progress at TAG Heuer and his plans for Zenith (as well as witness some of the more unusual activities that we’ve seen at a media launch). But first, the watches.
As you would expect, they bear a number of connections to the club. Both make significant use of bright red contrast with black cases and straps, echoing the club colours. The 45mm Carrera Heuer-01 has the club logo at 9 o’clock as well as a large red devil logo on the sapphire caseback. In all other respects its the same Heuer-01 that we’re becoming familiar with; the automatic chronograph movement, semi-skeletonised dial, tachymeter scale on the bezel and 100m water resistance. It’s available with red or black leather straps with contrast stitching.
The Formula 1 Chronograph features the club logo in white at 6 o’clock, and a laser-etched Manchester United crest on the steel caseback. Like the rest of the Formula 1 collection, it measures 43mm across, has a tachymeter scale, screw-down crown, “foudroyante” 1/10th second hand and 200m water resistance. It comes on a red and black rubber strap.
After the watches had been presented, players, executives and contest-winning members of the public took part in a timed football challenge (in which it should be noted that Mr Biver, 68, recorded a higher score than midfielder Ander Herrera). The LVMH watchmaking head then presented the Manchester United players with a large wheel of cheese from his own dairy farm, and challenged Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to cut it in half with a saw.
Exhilarated from the challenge he had set the players, Mr Biver was in fine form when we had a chance to ask him a few questions:
QP: What does Manchester United bring to TAG Heuer and vice versa?
Jean-Claude Biver: Manchester United to TAG Heuer brings, first of all, awareness. It brings success, it brings prestige. And it also brings emotions, because sport is full of emotions. What does TAG Heuer bring to Manchester United? It completes their prestige, because TAG is a prestigious product and the club needs sponsors at every level – sponsors that are more popular, and sponsors that are more exclusive.
We also bring some presence in certain countries or during certain events where we have more legitimacy, and they help us in the same way. They help us in China, because in China they are a real reference and we get a lot of transferred prestige from them in the Chinese market. When the Chinese fans see Manchester United is supported by TAG Heuer, it helps them, indirectly, to buy TAG Heuer watches.
QP: These kind of partnerships seem to come and go quite rapidly in football. How long is your deal for?
Jean-Claude Biver: It has a limit of five years, but I can already say now it will go over five years. I’m confident of that; this is something we are working on for the long term. Any contract, unless it is for five, eight, ten years, you should not sign. You should only sign if you know you are going to be working for five years at least with the club.
Hublot was here, for five years, and then we left when Sir Alex left, and they took a lot of sponsors in house. And then we came back, when things had cleaned up a little bit, and now we have a very confident position.
QP: How complete is your plan at TAG Heuer, now, two years after you took control?
Jean-Claude Biver: We have done 60 per cent, so we still have 40 per cent to do. We have more work to do on the collection. In two years you can develop products on the surface, and over time you can make some progress on the design, but the inside needs much more than 18 months. So there are a lot of innovations from our R&D department which are slowly coming to market. There will also be new designs, new technology and new movements coming out this year.
QP: With your roles at TAG Heuer, Hublot and now Zenith, people are calling you the busiest man in watchmaking. How do you cope?
Jean-Claude Biver: Because I have good people. If you have the right people in every brand, it’s easy to work. If you have nobody, or you don’t trust the people, or if you don’t have the trust of the team, it doesn’t work. I have brilliant people who are the best at getting the most synergies out of the brands. If you are at Zenith and you’re excellent at R&D you need to think – are you ok just thinking about Zenith? You could be thinking about this for Hublot, or that for TAG Heuer as well.
The better you are, the more you can do. Sometimes you can do a lot, and one brand is not enough. I have brilliant people and they work across all the brands.
QP: And what are your brilliant people doing at Zenith?
Jean-Claude Biver: It’s too early to say, because I started on the 1st of January and it has only been one month and ten days. But we do move quickly, and you will see in Basel. It’s too early for me to reveal what we are doing!
QP: We understand you don’t intend to remain CEO at Zenith for long. Is it difficult to be a CEO under you?
Jean-Claude Biver: That’s right – and no, I don’t think so – we have others! You know, many people thought it would be difficult for Hublot’s CEO to come after me, and it was not difficult, he has built the brand to the next success. And I want people to succeed, because I am too old to stay – my success is the success of the people I bring in. I have to make them successful so that I can leave! If I am always the best, it can’t go with me.
QP: What do you need most of all in Zenith’s next CEO?
Jean-Claude Biver: Respect for the tradition, for the brand, and the watchmaking history. Zenith is a brand of watchmaking substance, it’s the brand of confidence, it’s the brand you buy when you trust yourself. I don’t need people who are experts in marketing, or in sales, I need people who understand! The art! Of making watches! In Switzerland!
QP: How do you feel about 2017?
Jean-Claude Biver: Its better. Better, better, better! Much better. It’s better since October. October was better, November was better, December was better. I say better – it’s still negative but it was better. January was good already, and I think we can say that 2017 will be a good year.