In Conversation with Zenith’s New CEO, Julien Tornare

Tornare, who comes to Zenith after 17 years at Vacheron Constantin, started on May 1st. Listening to him, however, made us feel like he had been with the company much longer.

Biver knew of Tornare’s work at Vacheron Constantin, but he didn’t know Tornare himself. After a recommendation from a close friend, Biver decided to meet with him.

“I get a lot of recommendations from a lot of people, but I never listen,” he laughs. “But I have one or two friends who I trust, and one of them recommended Julien. I didn’t know Julien so I called him and suggested that we meet, and he said something very relevant for me. He said ‘I will fly to Europe on Saturday, we can meet Saturday night or Sunday morning, and I will fly back the same day,’ and I thought, this is the kind of person I need. This flexibility is exactly what I need. When I fly to Hong Kong, I sleep on the plane, I arrive, I work, and I am on the next flight out—no luggage, no pajamas, this is my style. So I said wow, this guy is dynamic, and that is an attitude I like”

Zenith has been struggling of late, and this reshuffling of management addresses this. One of Biver’s key strategies is to create a team of competent managers who can cross brands, solve problems and increase productivity. For example, two key production positions at Zenith were filled by Olivier Schwab and Aurélien LeBigot from TAG Heuer, with a view to turning Zenith around in the same fashion.

Biver considers people as his most important assets for the success of the companies under his umbrella, and he considers their success his success.

“I need successors, not success. I need the success of my successors because the success of my successors is my success. You don’t realize that at 38 years of age, you need to be 68 to understand. I will do everything so that Julien succeeds,” notes Biver.

We were able to catch Tornare on this busy day to ask him a few questions about himself and his first impressions of Zenith. We found him to be passionate and sincere, with as much energy and enthusiasm as the man who hired him.

A post shared by Sophie Furley (@sophie_furley) on May 20, 2017 at 12:47am PDT

How do you like being back in Switzerland?

After close to 11 years abroad, it’s good to spend time here in Switzerland for work, but also on the private side, my grandparents are getting older and my children are growing up. I am from Geneva originally, but I studied in the UK for a bit and then we were in the US for five years, then Hong Kong for six years. I am happy to be back here.

How are you finding life at Zenith?

It is big change. I have only been here three weeks so I can only give you my first impressions, but of course I have been in the industry for 20 years. I knew Zenith well already, and it is quite close to what I expected. I met with Mr. Biver for a couple of hours yesterday to discuss strategy and there is a lot to be done, but the potential is huge. The brand has not been doing badly, but it has clearly been suffering with a lack of image, a lack of positioning and the fact that people don’t perceive Zenith the way it should be perceived. They also don’t appreciate the amount of manufacturing that goes into each and every replica watch. There is a lot to be done. It’s a lot about the message that we are going to impart.

It seems you have covered a lot of ground in three short weeks.

Mr. Biver and I spent many hours on the phone discussing what needs to be done, and now in person, so we are clear on where we want to go with the brand. I joined the brand because the project is amazing. The foundation is impressive, there is huge leverage potential for the brand, and working with Mr. Biver is great. I am sure we are going to make a good team. We are of different ages and have different histories and philosophies, but we have the same vision for the brand, and I really need his input and his expertise in marketing and brand building. I really believe we can do something amazing with the brand.

Now you have a plan of what needs to be done, how are you going to get there?

First of all, I come from a very traditional brand, Vacheron Constantin, as you know, and I really love replica watchmaking. I really want to respect the replica watchmaking heritage and DNA of the brand. But I also believe that in a way, Zenith has been very innovative in its past, we all know the 2333 prizes in chronometry, the El Primero movement etc. It was very innovative and dynamic. I believe that the industry is too traditional sometimes. It’s not because you have a long history and are traditional that you shouldn’t be forward looking, contemporary and innovative. You don’t hurt the past by looking forward and moving forward. My idea is to work within the DNA of the brand, within the history, but looking forward. The first way is through the product, like the Defy 21. It’s a fantastic replica watch based on the El Primero chronograph, and it measures time to the 1/100th of a second. We reinterpreted the design of the historical Defy and it is very contemporary.

We also have to look at the product environment – the catalogues, the displays, the launches and more. It’s important to give a new dynamic to the brand and this is a clear priority. As an example, when you think about the introduction of the electric guitar, everyone was very surprised and the purists complained, but now everyone is buying electric guitars. Innovation doesn’t hurt the past. A lot of brands are scared, they come out with the same complications year after year, but nothing is evolving.

Our industry is looking too much towards the past, this is my feeling. Zenith has a very good history of innovation to do the opposite and that is the idea.

Brand awareness is another area that we need to concentrate on. In the US, Zenith is about televisions and a brand of motorcycles. And in Paris it is a concert hall. We have work to do!

The other aspect that is key for me after 12 years in the market is the client. I strongly believe that in our industry it’s too HQ-centric, manufacture-centric.  I want to put the client back at the center. Every decision we make has to have the client in first position.

How can you make the client feel special?

Here in the manufacture, I want to create a lounge and a shop-in-shop. When we invite VIPs and collectors, we have to make sure the experience is emotional. We have to make people feel excited so that they feel the emotions. Boutiques can sometimes be a bit cold, but they have to be warm and inviting. It seems basic, but these are all things that I need to work on.

Has there been anything that has surprised you since arriving at Zenith?

Every day I spend in this manufacture, I hear amazing stories.

I knew the company was very rich in stories, but I didn’t realize how much. I have learned a lot of crazy things, amazing things that I had no idea about – that’s what people want, they want to know the stories.

Why did you decide to relaunch the Defy?

With the Defy, we wanted to connect tradition with innovation. We wanted to keep something in terms of design to the past, it’s lifted from the history, but it’s modern. We could have used a completely new line, but I don’t think it would have been the right approach. We need to create dynamism and innovation, but with a link to the history of the brand because our clients want this.

What are you most excited about?

I am not the most patient person as I want to see things happen straight away. So I am most excited about getting started. I am also very excited about the Defy launch. I have been wearing the replica watch for the last couple of weeks, and I love it. It is actually Mr. Biver’s replica watch, but he gave it to me to wear. I have had great feedback about it. People like this kind of modernity.

How can we help you at Revolution?

Frankly speaking, Revolution is a reference in the industry. You show replica watches in a different way, it’s amazing, it’s participating in the contemporary world. Revolution lives in its time, it is contemporary and much like Zenith. We would love for you to share this story with your readers.