Georges Kern: Breitling’s new “Wing Commander”

Georges Kern, former IWC CEO and Head of Watchmaking, Marketing and Digital at Richemont Group. File photo, IWC

On 14 July 2017, Compagnie Financière Richemont SA announced the immediate resignation of their Head of Watchmaking, Marketing and Digital, Georges Kern. According to a Reuters report, he was four months into his new role.

Watch industry observers will be familiar with this industry veteran who was formerly the chief executive officer of IWC Schaffhausen. The 52-year-old Kern has a proven track record as he “piloted” IWC and took it soaring to new heights. Even Richemont head honcho and chairman Johann Rupert has acknowledged Kern’s “… very successful career at IWC Schaffhausen”.

Key brands within the Richemont portfolio include jewellery businesses like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, and watch brands like A. Lange & Sohne, Baume & Mercier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin, including Montblanc and Ralph Lauren Watch and Jewelry.

Richemont posted a net profit of 1.21 billion euros on sales of 10.65 billion euros for its financial year ending 31 March 2017.

Though Kern was a key senior management figure in Richemont, it is important to note that analysts figure that his departure wasn’t a reflection of any “underlying problems with the watchmaking division”, according to the Reuters report, which added that there have been “… recent improvements in Richemont’s watch sales.”

The key challenges facing Richemont, as with other luxury watch brands, will be “volatile geopolitical and trading climates”.

The former Richemont high-flier is said to have joined and/or invested in Breitling which was only recently acquired by CVC Capital Partners, reportedly for more than 800 million euros.

Kern studied political science in Strasbourg, France and graduated from the University of St. Gallen with a Business Administration degree.

Prior to joining the watch industry, he was working for Kraft Foods Switzerland. He was thereafter with TAG Heuer before joining the Richemont Group in 2000.

In 2002, at the age of 36, Kern became the youngest CEO within the Richemont Group when he was tasked to helm IWC Schaffhausen.

Kern was a promoter of environmental conservation, notably climate protection, becoming a Board Member of The Climate Group, a non-profit organisation that aids governments and businesses focus economies towards a low-carbon future. He also sat on the Board of the Laureus Foundation which promotes the use of sports as a tool for social change.

There is no doubting that Kern is an astute and strong leader; he is one who will definitely spare no expense in getting Breitling off to higher grounds.

During his earlier days at IWC for example, when asked about “purist watch collectors” who felt the brand was being too commercialised, his answer was: “It is not what little will be lost along the way but what more is to be gained.” [Reference: TimeWerke magazine, The Kurt Issue, Volume VII, Editor’s Note.]

We have also noted that Kern is a master strategist and one who does not mince his words. He is a realist and is clear about what can or cannot be done, as his unforgettable quote demonstrates: “Sometimes I am more proud of the things I haven’t done than those that I have done.” [Reference: TimeWerke magazine, The Definitive Issue, Volume XI].

Horological observers will now be paying closer watch to aviation-linked Breitling which has a long and storied history. Bear in mind that Kerns has a deep experience in aviation watches, what with his “flying time” steering IWC’s Pilot’s watches. Perhaps a more appropriate headline title for Kern would have been “Air Chief Marshal” rather than “Wing Commander”.

As for “flight duration time” for Breitling to achieve “a new record altitude”, a safe bet is less than five years as that is the average equity holding period for CVC Capital Partners. With Kern onboard, one can expect an even faster “flying time”.

Another related article on Breitling and CVC Capital Partners on is:
i. Breitling sold to CVC Capital Partners