IWC: Flying High With The Pilot’s Collection

Published January 8th, 2007 - 12:37 GMT

Born in 1965 to the renowned Düsseldorf jeweller, René Kern, he grew up in a home with two languages - a French father and a German mother. He was surrounded by the world of jewellery, gems and luxury watches. After his youth on the Rhine, he studied politics in Strasbourg and then business management in Swiss St. Gallen.

You managed to steal the limelight with the launch of the new Pilot’s Collection at SIHH last year. How was the feedback from the distributors & retailers?
IWC has been producing professional timepieces for pilots and passengers since the mid-1930s so the launch of the new Pilot’s collection was expected to be well received and the distributors and retailers were only too happy.

IWC were the first watch manufacturer to introduce a wristwatch that fulfilled all contemporary needs in a cockpit as early as 1936. It was a professional instrument then essential in navigating a plane. IWC has produced many more professional watches for military as well civilian use ever since.

We offered a wide choice between the Classic collection of five watches in the traditional instrument look or the more elegant models from the Spitfire collection.

The launch itself was very well attended with friends of IWC including Hollywood celebrities, sports legends, watch connoisseurs and around a thousand guests comprising elite members of society in attendance.

Who were these friends of IWC that you mention?
The launch party was attended by Hollywood actors Orlando Bloom & Cate Blanchett, tennis legend Boris Becker, athlete Edwin Moses, former French Formula I star Jean Alesi, Japanese actress Kumiko Goto, Spanish dancer Joaquin Cortes and art dealer Tim Jefferies to name a few.

How did you manage to stand out in a crowded setting such as the SIHH?
We used the SIHH platform for the world premiere of IWC’s short film titled “Pilots” starring actor John Malkovich. In true Hollywood style, the fast paced film introduced the new Pilot’s Watches, including the legendary Classic Line, the Spitfire Line and the Edition Antoine de Saint Exupery.

The event was organised inside a plane hangar, at the Geneva International Airport. The guests were taken on a journey back to the 1930s and 40s - an important phase in aeronautical development - when flying was still an adventure for courageous pilots.

What are the strengths of the IWC brand that have endured over the years?
Our strong brand image is one of our major strengths. Our predecessors in the past 150 years have made our job much easier. This Swiss German image, the engineering competency, and the brand have been well positioned.

Secondly, the teams in Schaffhausen and on a worldwide level are doing an exceptionally good job; they have the right attitude, the right spirit. A good brand combined with the right workforce and the tradition of Schaffhausen i.e. probus scafusia or good solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen has endured over the years.

IWC's marketing campaign is frequently tagged as male-oriented?
Our campaigns were originally designed to effectively communicate a very masculine brand image.

Today, IWC is an international brand, and we are differentiating and customizing our campaigns in different markets.

We want to be fair to the consumers in terms of price, features and quality. Everything we are doing has to be true and efficient for the consumer.

Would you call yourself a watch connoisseur?
I was raised with jewellery and watches, as my father was a jeweller by profession. I have a natural relationship with them. I love watches and I was exposed to them from childhood. What I got from my father is his taste and judgment. Watches must be nice and suit the brand image.

What are the plans for IWC?
We will work continuously with both the high end and the entry-range level, there will be complication but we have our feet on the floor, and there will be new products at our entry-level watches. It is essential to keep the balance. We will have some very exciting products.

In summary the real key elements for success are good products and good communication, not logistics, not IT, not finance nor any other thing.

We are continuously improving our products. We need to invest more in communication to gain brand awareness. We need to make clear who we are, our roots, our traditions and where we come from.

Describe Georges Kern in a few words?
A person with a sense of humour, a true friend, a straightforward & easy-going person.

What you do when you travelling around the world?
My work has been evolving over the years and today, I am doing something completely different compared to what I was doing five years ago. IWC was like a sleeping beauty so I had to revive the brand and its fortunes and today the company is growing strongly. I have a good team that I am really proud of. I do travel a lot to see how business can be improved in our key target markets, as this can’t be done from behind one’s computer screen.

You have been to Dubai in the last 12 years, what are the changes you notice?
I see Dubai as an amazing success story. The emirate has grown by leaps and bounds and its pace of growth is akin to Shanghai with several new projects in abundance from commercial and residential real estate projects to infrastructure developments.

Alongside Dubai, now Abu Dhabi too has stepped up the pace of development and is growing at a fast pace and that is one of the reasons why IWC is planning to open a Boutique in the capital city.

Do you see these changes as progress?
Of course all these changes are part of the progress of the country and will benefit the business community and the people at large.

Tell us about IWC’s involvement with the Laureus Foundation?
IWC is a socially responsible corporate entity and we strongly believe that sport is an ideal medium to tackle a wide range of social issues and generate a positive impact.

The Richemont Group is one of the Founding Patrons of the Laureus Academy and we provide core funding for Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Laureus has devoted itself entirely to sport since its establishment in 1999.

The Laureus World Sports Academy is a truly outstanding body of internationally respected and successful sportsmen and women comprising 42 sportsmen and women who between them account for 100 Olympic medals, over 50 of them gold, 100 world championship titles and 200 world records.

Laureus thinks globally but acts locally by supporting projects that are tailored precisely to the needs of children in around the world.

National Sport for Good Foundations currently exist in the USA, South Africa and Argentina. In Europe, there are currently three national foundations: one in Germany, one in France and one in Italy. About 40 projects all over the world are working to provide disadvantaged children with social improvement, solidarity and improved prospects for the future through the strength of sport.

The potential behind the concept is best illustrated by the fact that more national foundations are currently being set up, in Spain and in Switzerland. IWC Schaffhausen will be responsible for establishing the Laureus Foundation in Switzerland.

The Foundation’s second pillar is the Laureus World Sports Academy. This consists of 40 sporting legends that act as ambassadors for the projects and, at the same time, function as the jury and prize-givers for the annual Laureus World Sports Awards.

Prominent sports personalities who are ambassadors of Laureus Foundation include: Severiano Ballesteros, Franz Beckenbauer, Boris Becker, Ian Botham, Sergey Bubka, Bobby Charlton, Sebastian Coe, Nadia Comaneci, Kapil Dev, Michael Johnson, Michael Jordan, John McEnroe, Edwin Moses, Nawal El Moutawakel, Ilie Nastase, Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Pelé, Vivian Richards, Daley Thompson and Yasuhiro Yamashita to name a few.

What kind of sport you love & practice?
I play tennis and like to sail (Hoby Cat) and also go diving & cycling.

What is your buzzword in life & work?
At work the buzzwords are truth & efficiency it is important to be responsible for the decisions we make even if we make mistakes. In life my buzzwords would be love & honesty.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt in life?
Life is a process of evolution and you live and learn a lot of things as you grow. When I became a CEO at the age of 36, it was a surprise for many. There were many people who thought that I was arrogant - especially the ones who were jealous and envious of my position. I still remember the press conference announcing our results, that was attended by 1,100 journalists & my boss said in front of everybody: “Thank God you did not let me down.”

What is your secret formula of success?
Team Work

Who is your rule model?
Napoleon Bonaparte - one of the greatest military leaders in history famed for his genius, his spectacular victories and the loyalty he commanded from his troops.

What is your motto on life?
Going forward


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