Dig out your Swatch watch and wear it this week in honor of Swatch Group founder and Chairman Nicolas G. Hayek who died Monday. For me, the appeal of Swatch is the playfulness and irreverence of the graphics. And then there is the respect for how Hayek turned around the Swiss watch industry. The industry nearly collapsed in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, with no hope in sight and with Japanese watch-making giants readily looking to buy up and revamp old brands, a government-appointed group of Swiss banks hired Hayek to evaluate and report on how the Swiss watch manufacturers would be most effectively sold. (Forbes, Luisa Kroll) He attacked the problem in this way; he created an exclusivity of existing Swiss made watch brands by doubling the prices and insisting that the words “Swiss” or “Swiss made” appear at the bottom of the dial. To generate cash, he introduced a plastic watch with few moving parts in a variety of trendy colors. For the first time, the consumer considered the idea of owning multiple watches.
More than 300 million Swatch watches have been sold. The company hopes to sell more than 1 billion Swatch watches by 2033. Last year, the company generated sales of around $4.9 billion. Hayek, who was born in Lebanon in 1928 to a Lebanese mother and Lebanese-American father, studied physics, mathematics and chemistry, moved to Switzerland in 1949 and set up a consulting business in Zurich in 1957. (WSJ, Goran Mijuk)