By Thomas Shambler
A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid is not only responsible for running one of the biggest watch brands in the world. He's looking after heritage that dates back to the 1800s
A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid is not only responsible for running one of the biggest watch brands in the world. He's looking after heritage that dates back to the 1800s...
Last year saw many new watches from A. Lange & Söhne, is that something we can expect for 2016?
We've not been any slower than last year. We brought four new movements to SIHH this year, one of which – the jumping seconds – caught everyone by surprise. Our Lumen Moonphase made headlines for pushing the design boundaries for the brand. I'd say that 2016 is very much business as usual.
Many brands have started paying attention to entry-level models, to increase the number of watches sold. But Lange seems to have maintained its dedication to producing high-end complications. Is that a conscious strategy?
I don't want to sound arrogant by any means, but if you see how we manufacture our watches it's pretty clear that we'll never reach the bottom end of the market with our brand. I think maximum, we can produce 15,000 watches a year.
We could start producing watches of varying levels of quality, but we're not prepared to do that. For us, it's all about what fits the brand. There will always be a market for high-end pieces, if they're really innovative and unique. We do have watches that are more entry-level for our brand, but in our price range that's 20,000 Euros. We don't adjust our design process for trends, that's not our philosophy.
Late last year you said that you were casually optimistic about the watch industry in 2016. Six months on, does that still hold true?
The world is in turmoil that goes without saying. The environment is changing at a speed which we've never seen before, so you need to be quick. I always use two words: be vigilant, and optimistic.
Ultimately, we're in a business and if you compare it to sailing – this is my favourite analogy – there are times when you are safely in the harbour with the sun shining, and there are days when you are at sea and the wind and waves are not in your favour. But I am not worried. I have an excellent team sailing the ship with me.
Is this a case of the market correcting itself? Some say the past five good years has left the industry over-inflated?
Let me ask you this, how do you feel after Christmas and New Year?
I feel a bit depressed.
Exactly. That is human. We love life when it is easy, and then regret it when those times change. I think that's the best way to see it. Brands with substance, they will survive. Brands that think that no change is ever necessary, they may struggle in those times of change.
The original brand was founded in 1845. As a leader of a company with that sort of heritage, is it daunting to have to make decisions that will – assuming the company continues for the next hundred years – be credited to you?
I think that strong brands are less dependent on the person heading the company.
There are a very few decisions that I really have to do by myself. On those days it's my responsibility, and my head gets chopped off if I get it wrong. But I get good advice from people that I really trust. Potentially steering the company in the wrong direction? That part worries me the least.
So you've got the right people in the right places?
A brand is only as strong as its teams. It's about the right team structure, and if it's diverse enough the company will be very capable of handling the unexpected. If you work well in one area but not in another, it becomes difficult.
Look at Formula One. In the 1970s, if you had a good engine and a great driver you would become champion. Today, even the lady who serves the coffee must be perfectly on time, or it might cost you the championship. I think this has happened to all businesses over the last decades. If any part of a business is not well organised or well structured, it could cost you.
You come from the motor industry. Do you think your time at BMW gave you with any particular skills that have translated into watches?I try to have many different nationalities, genders and backgrounds in my staff. Then the common ground is a passion for watches.
I think it's important, because we don't end up producing for one customer or group of customers, or for a single nationality. I think it's always a good idea to have a very creative person next to a very structured person, or an outspoken person next to somebody who thinks twice before saying a word.
If you can gather at team like that – with common ground – then you'll get the best advice you can have.