The Renewal of Zenith: Interview with New CEO Julien Tornare

Lara Mansour   |   04 - 09 - 2017

Newly appointed CEO, Julien Tornare, takes the swiss watchmakers to the next level.

After spending 17 years at Vacheron Constantin, Julien Tornare, a real veteran of the watch industry, made the move over to LVMH, joining as the CEO of Zenith. The move followed an illustrious career in the world of watches for Tornare, who worked at Raymond Weil for 2 years before starting at Vacheron Constantin as the market head for Switzerland. The University of Geneva Economics Graduate went on to hold a variety of roles during his time at Vacheron Constantin, including being President of the North American market. From 2009 to 2011, Tornare headed Vacheron Constantin for international sales before helming the Asia-Pacific region as Managing Director for the last 7 years, ending his tenure at the world’s oldest continuously operating watchmaker in April 2017.

Here we speak to Tornare about how he plans to evolve the brand, and take it to the next level under his new leadership, together with the involvement of Jean-Claude Biver, Head of Watchmaking at LVMH, Chairman of Hublot, and CEO of TAG Heuer, who filled the role during an interim gap of 3 months.

What brought you to Zenith?

A will to change, to embrace a new challenge for a brand with great potential, and of course my encounter with Mr. Biver.

What surprised you most about Zenith when you joined the brand?

The fantastic heritage and the people that are working for that brand, some for many years. A huge attachment to the brand and a strong commitment to make it grow.

How have you found your transition to this role, and what has been your biggest challenge?

I like it when things go fast, so after coming from the markets where everything is happening live, especially in Asia, I need to be patient and take a step by step approach to implement our new strategy in the traditional world of Swiss Watchmaking.

How do you feel you will be able to make your imprint on the brand?

I will not do it alone but must have the right people around me and take the whole team with me, and of course with the strong input from Mr. Biver with whom I work very closely.

Can you share with us the key goals that you hope to achieve with taking Zenith to the next level?

At 152 years old, Zenith has a long history with many great achievements which contributed to the watchmaking industry a lot. People don’t always realise how innovation has been part of its Zenith history since its beginning, so the idea is to bring back this notion of innovation within our brand and move forward into the future, but always respecting the history. We don’t want to repeat the past, but re-interpret it to create timespieces for 21st century clients!

What  will be the focuses with regards to innovation?

We are launching the new Defy 21 collection which is the perfect illustration of innovation inspired by our heritage with the first 1/100 of a second chronograph, functioning with a 50 herz frequency, which means 360’000 oscillations per hour. This is an amazing new milestone for the brand.

What is the key to balancing historical pieces with more contemporary designs?

The key is to benefit from our rich heritage and history to develop innovation and create new time pieces that 21st century clients are expecting from a brand like Zenith. We will always be inspired and start from our history, but not fall asleep into it by repeating what has already been done.

Which is your favourite timepiece?

My favourite watch is definitely the new Defy 21 which is an amazing piece of technology, but also includes a very contemporary design. It is very dynamic and a perfect fit with the El Primero 21 movement.

You plan to work closely with Mr. Biver, how do you both interact in the work environment?

We talk everyday but it can be about strategic points as well as minor things that we want to share. We have defined the brand strategy together and both agree on the right direction for Zenith.

Did you have a lot of contact with Mr. Biver before taking on your new role?

I obviously knew him better than he knew me, but we already had some interaction while I was in the US between 2004 and 2009. I was working on repositioning another brand on the market and Mr. Biver was promoting Hublot throughout the markets.

Following your work with other brands across many markets, which market do you feel has potential for the most growth?

Many markets are important and strategic. China is for sure a key market from a demographic and purchasing power point of view, but Zenith wants to grow globally. Today, being only strong with the Chinese is more of a weakness than a strength as the new generation of Chinese clients are becoming worldwide citizens and following global trends. A strong brand must be global and appeal to all clients, and that is why we will also focus on the USA and Japan, but without forgetting Europe and the Middle East.

How important is the Middle East to you in terms of sales?

The Middle East is a country of connoisseurs, with a great taste for high exclusive watchmaking. They have a great knowledge, and this is why they appreciate Zenith and its heritage. The Middle East is growing strongly for us, and not only in Dubai but across the region where we are entering new markets with great potential.

Do you have plans to evolve your sales channels, particularly with a move towards selling more online, either directly or via your retail partners?

A global brand today must have a clear distribution strategy and we have decided to work on an omni channel approach which will include e-commerce under different forms. Sales on the internet are everywhere and concerning all products so it would be wrong to try to avoid it. That said, today our brand is reinforcing its business partnership with our best retailers around the world and they also are integrating internet in their own business models.

What is key to finding the right equilibrium between online and boutiques?

To understand our clients, who they are and what they want. Some prefer to be in a fully branded environment, some enjoy being advised by multi brand retailers and some decide to buy online for convenience.

Where do you see the future with selling portals?

Everywhere! Many new portals or contact points will exist and we need to be ready.

Finally, can you share with us what sets Zenith apart?

Zenith is a unique brand as it has a long history but again doesn’t get stuck into it, and jailed by it. We want our past to serve our future and the future of Swiss watchmaking. This is why we are presenting world premieres this fall with our new Zenith oscillator followed by our Defy 21 worldwide launch which will make a real step forward for our industry. We also believe in the right product at the right price and our clients understand that very well.

By Lara Mansour Sawaya