As the new Chief Executive Officer of Audemars Piguet Singapore, Jonathan King will oversee the Swiss luxury brand’s operation in much of Asia outside of Japan, including India and Australia. King comes to this part of the world after a successful five-year stint as the CEO for Audemars Piguet Japan. On his first trip to this country last month, he spoke exclusively to MW.
Congratulations on your recent appointment! How do the challenges of the new market under your care look as compared to your experience in Japan?
It’s very different that’s for sure. But as you see, it is still Asia. So there are some core values I think that don’t change much including filial piety, respect for elders, knowledge of good food, love of rice, etc. I’m sure there are differences between these regions, but I would say, at a fundamental level things like love of quality, passion for matrimony, enjoyment of innovation, etc. are common across the region. Though much of this is universal as well, you will find slightly different trends in Asia. The Japanese love, as you know, high tech and innovation, but at the same time, they also have a deep-rooted appreciation for artisan and handwork. Despite the super modern environment, you see a lot of appreciation for traditional values here.
Jonathan King: Where does India fit in the Audemars Piguet Asia strategy? How has the brand’s experience been so far and what can we expect going forward.
MW: We think there’s an enormous future in India. There’s an incredible level of resources of every kind here. There’s already a great level of interest in the brand. Also, despite our relatively limited footprint, there’s an enormous level of education about fine watches. We are not looking to rush into anything, but look to serve our customers in the best possible way. We want to develop and grow organically, understand our customers’ needs before we decide to run a bit faster. The market is certainly there and whether it’s to a large degree or a lesser degree, is probably a factor of our production rather than the capability of the market to absorb more.
JK: It has been reported that Audemars Piguet CEO Francois-Henry Bennahmias made a decision two years ago to restrict the company’s production to about 40, 000 watches a year for the next five years. How does that affect markets like India or Japan?
MW: First, let me just clarify that we don’t restrict production. We’re producing as many watches as we can with finite resources we have because ours is a hand-made watch. Though we have hundreds of watchmakers, there’s only a certain number of watches they can do to our level of quality per year. And that number happens to be 40,000. So what we decided was not to restrict production but to stay at 40,000 which was two years ago. We’re going to stay within this framework and do the best possible work at this level. And that was despite surging demand. That decision, I think, proved to be a very good one. Considering the slowdown that has happened since. We focus on making 40,000 perfect watches rather than trying to jump on a bandwagon of unsustainable growth, leaving behind our core values.
JK: AP is one of the few luxury watch companies that has consistently grown over the last few years despite a bad market. What would you attribute this to?
MW: It’s a combination of things. On the one hand, as I mentioned, was our calculated decision not to increase production, not to build any new factory, to maintain the best quality and not to try to grow too fast too quickly. That decision has paid dividends since. When the market went through shocks and contractions over the last three years, it did not impact AP. Secondly, I think our customers have been enjoying the products we’ve developed over the last few years. And perhaps some of our competitors were at a different stage in their product lifecycle which resulted in bad timing on their part. Thirdly, I think, most importantly we listen to what our customers tell us. Their feedback tells us whether our direction is correct or not. I think those different elements working together helped us perform better in these past years.
JK: If you were to describe your ambition of what you want to achieve in this new role, what would it be?
MW: My ambition is to safeguard the brand. My vision is to respect the history and DNA of the brand, to listen very carefully to our customers and our partners, and try to make sure that quality is always at the forefront of everything we do. And I think with those three approaches; we hope to stay of value.
JK: Anything different or anything specific to India itself?
MW: As we grow in India, as we need to specialise more. I ’m sure there will be a lot of lessons we have to learn, and a lot of things we got to take on board. Right now, our partners share a lot with us, and we try to understand better, what’s in store for the future. There’s been a lot of change recently in India, which we’re looking at them very closely, because this may open many opportunities. We’re going to take it step by step.