Wilhelm Schmid, CEO A. Lange & Söhne, talks industry projection, life lessons and remembering Walter Lange.
Steeped in a rich heritage, German manufacturer A. Lange & Söhne has long flown the flag for quality, craftsmanship and exclusivity. Here, we sit down with its CEO Wilhelm Schmid to go behind the brand.
What is the main message you are telling this year?
For us it is always the same. The message starts the moment you enter our booth. What you see is a gigantic watch, representing the most complicated watch of the year emphasising what is at the centre of our attention, and that is watches. It simply gives the story of who we are and what we want.
2016 was a challenging year, how do you see the industry projections for 2017?
True that 2016 was challenging, but I have no reason to complain. No company can always have the ‘best’ years.
What happened last year on a global level was all about crossroads and taking major decisions, and that created uncertainty. The Syria crisis that expanded, the UK pulling out of the EU community, and the US elections. This year, these questions have been answered, hence we don’t have this area or this uncertainty, so it’s not a question of having money or not, it is just being in the mood to spend. We are in a feel-good industry, and we buy when we are feeling good.
Where is the Middle East in A. Lange & Söhne’s world?
We are well represented in the region and I personally think that there is a huge appetite for what we offer. You have the travel hub, Dubai, where people visit from all over the world and that works completely differently from the rest of the Middle East since it depends also on who is coming and what purchasing power they come with, such indications that have nothing to do with the area, but more to do with the global economy. Our team is optimistic and we are also working on a few other countries, but it is too early to unveil.
Last year we also opened our boutique in Beirut. I travel the world extensively and there are cultures that you connect to instantly, and Lebanon was one of those places. For me it is always a goose bumps moment there.
What’s your take on social media, and how do you think it is serving your brand?
For me there are a couple of challenges that I’ll address. For example, we were live on Facebook yesterday and we will be again today, so we are obviously targeting a new audience, trying to reach out to the 25 – 30 year olds. Today they may not have the money, but we should explain what fine watchmaking means so they could become a part of our family in the future. We have worked for the past 20 years to create what we are harvesting today, and this is where I see the importance of social media. My duty is to think of what’s going to happen in the next 20 years.
Internet however is a different story! In the past, if you wanted to see a special watch, it was all about having the right connections. It was like a hunt, and you had to be after it to get it!
With Internet, everything looks available instantly, which is the opposite of what I think an exclusive product should be. It is creating the feeling of availability yet they don’t realise that the product has already gone, and that is a challenge that we must work with.
A very new phenomenon that is being discussed nowadays is ‘fake news’, where you will find someone offering a watch from A. Lange & Söhne that is not yet launched and out in the market.
Altogether, they are a tricky combination where you have people that trust the Internet until they are failed, and you have Social media that is not controlled like proper journalism. That is a challenge in today’s world for all of us!
Do you have a personal motto?
I don’t have a motto but I’ve realised that a day with no fun and love is a lost day! If you don’t have fun why do what you do!
What is one thing you hate most?
I hate unpunctuality, as it’s very disrespectful.
What book are you currently reading?
I love reading about cars and the history of cars because you can learn a lot on how brands developed overtime. However, when I am not in a serious mood, I love reading a soft easy book or a Thriller.
Tell us something no one knows about you?
If I told you then everyone will know, so I won’t tell you!
How do you want the industry to remember you?
If in a hundred years the history of A. Lange & Söhne is written, I’d like to have a chapter that started well and ended well. That’s all I want.
How would you describe the brand in one word?
Exclusive from A to Z. However, I think I will need two words, exclusive and passion.
What are wearing on your wrist today?
I am wearing the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike, it is a new launch of ours and it makes time audible in a new way, with a striking mechanism which sounds every ten minutes. Limited to an edition of 100 watches, the technical concept is paired with an innovative material.
How do you balance work, travel, and family?
Not well! I’m almost on the road for 180 days per year. Luckily my wife is used to it, but I always do my best for quality time together.
Do you have any life regrets?
What’s a major life lesson you learned from your father?
Make your own mistakes, as you won’t grow without making mistakes.
What is your biggest fear?
Recently our dear Walter Lange passed away, leaving us suddenly. This made me realise that my biggest fear is losing the moment of saying goodbye.
What lessons did you learn from him?
‘Never stand still’ is one of the legacies that he will leave.
How do you remember him?
He was a tough man but he was always there. He was hard, disciplined, and not easy going, but he was a warm person. I will never forget him telling me once, ‘the company is in good hands.’
What do you still aim to achieve?
My task is to pass the flame to the next generation, together with keeping the passion and appreciation in high watchmaking. We must work on this objective as an industry, not only as individuals.
By Lara Mansour Sawaya