Straight-line thinking shows you the way to go

He’s a man with a mission. In an industry that is not exactly known for dramatic ­change, Jean-Claude Biver is like the ticking of the second hand, unrelenting in his search for new things. Biver was successful in rejuvenating the Blancpain brand and was responsible for the growth of Hublot and TAG Heuer.

  • Interview
    Michael Köckritz, Matthias Mederer
  • Photos
    Matthias Mederer · ramp.pictures

A black glass office block not far from Lake Geneva. A heavy gate slowly opens, a guard meticulously checks everyone entering the building. Here, situated somewhat inconspicuously right off the motorway, are the headquarters of Swiss watchmaker Hublot. Jean-Claude Biver awaits us in a conference room. During the interview, the 69-year-old Biver is at times loud and assertive, he laughs, gesticulates, and even thumps his fist on the table every now and again. But he also listens, pauses to choose his words. That has a lot to do with respect, as he says. Respect for what others do. A central theme for Biver: “My greatest success is Ricardo Guadalupe.” Guadalupe is the current CEO of Hublot. “He started with me 25 years ago. We worked together for years, I challenged and encouraged him, and when he succeeded me as CEO in 2011, nobody noticed that it wasn’t me controlling the company anymore, but him. This man succeeded in continuing to manage the company in such a way that nobody noticed the change. That’s fantastic! That is a real success – because for me success is what you leave behind. If you don’t leave anything behind except maybe money, then you haven’t lived for anybody. You measure your success by the amount that you leave behind, the amount of knowledge that you pass on, the amount of love that you were able to give, and so on. That is the real purpose of life.” We take a seat.

Mr. Biver, you often mention curiosity as one of your most important qualities. When was the last time you were really surprised by something?

I’m surprised of myself every day, of the fact that I’m alive, that I can smell, taste. But I suppose we’re not talking about those sorts of surprises. Okay, so when was the last time I was surprised professionally? Hmmm... when I saw the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring. That surprised me. I thought: that, in concentrated form, is a summary of what a Porsche 911 is all about today. Anyone who wants to have the essence of a 911 needs to buy this car.

You’re just saying that because we’re a car magazine.

No, I’m serious. When it comes to the whole history of the 911, this car gets to the heart of the matter conceptually. That surprised me because I find that to be very interesting. And only Porsche can do something like that because only Porsche has this unique form. Ferrari can’t really come up with a summary like that because Ferrari creates a new form and pursues a different concept with every model. This enormous industrial consistency, that is my most recent industry surprise.

And apart from the auto industry, what has surprised you?

Jeff Bezos surprised me with his idea to build a clock that is supposed to run forever, which will continue to tell time and show the position of the moon ten thousand years from now. And that he is willing to put up 45 million dollars for its development.

Why does that surprise you?

Because Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and a leader in the digital here-and-now, is suddenly interested in eternity. I have to admit I would understand that from anyone else – if, for example, the Vatican had financed a project like this, then I would have understood it, that’s part of their philosophy – but Jeff Bezos? That really surprised me.

People are born curious, it helps us to grow up. The greatest challenge is to remain curious as an adult because knowledge comes from curiosity and suddenly you know things and you stop being curious.
Do you think curiosity comes naturally?

No, unfortunately not. I think it is natural when you’re young. Children are curious by nature. A child is unintentionally curious. People are born curious, it helps us to grow up. The greatest challenge is to remain curious as an adult because knowledge comes from curiosity and suddenly you know things and you stop being curious. That’s a real shame. We should be giving adults lessons in curiosity. You have to constantly practice something to keep in shape. You need regular repetition, just like muscle training. Curiosity is natural from birth, but later it gets lost and we have to work deliberately at maintaining it. It’s the same way with learning. Children learn a language without anyone having to explain it to them, through curiosity and imitation. And so I send my son to China when he’s 20 years old and tell him: “You’re now going to learn Chinese.” And he looks at me and gets a headache just thinking about it and asks me: “Why?” So I explain to him that 1.5 billion people speak Chinese and they all learned the language without getting a headache. Curiosity and learning are part of being human. The problem is just that we stop being curious and we stop learning. But that’s when we start to get old.

That means you exercise your curiosity every day, like an athlete?

Basically, yes. Some people get up in the morning and do 100 push-ups. That’s normal for them. But that wouldn’t be normal for me, I’d rather go jogging. But I exercise my curiosity, in part to be aware of the fact that I’m alive. Often, we’re not really aware of that, we take it for granted. Only when we fall ill do we truly realise what it means to be healthy and alive. And that’s just how it is with curiosity. I have to constantly remind myself to be curious.

1/2
You’re a very privileged person: you can travel, you get to meet interesting people in interesting places. Doesn’t that make it easier to stay curious?

I don’t think so. It’s true that I’m quite privileged – and for that I’m grateful. Every day. I’m really happy to have these privileges, but I’m prepared for the fact that I could lose it all one day. Privileges for me don’t mean that I am constantly trying to use them for personal gain. For me, privileges mean that I have a responsibility to other people.

How do you mean that?

Let me give you an example from my time at Blancpain. I had a friend at the time, an actor, a very well-known actor who had bought several watches from me. I don’t want to mention his name here publicly. One day, he came to me with the idea for a very special watch that he wanted to have made for him and I sold it to him. It took us 18 months to create that watch. The price: 250,000 Swiss francs. We delivered, and he didn’t pay. I wrote him a couple of times, but he didn’t reply. Then I sold Blancpain and the new owners saw there was an open invoice for 250,000 Swiss francs. They wanted to know what that was all about. I explained it to them and assured them I would look into it again. Still no answer. So I wrote to him: “It shames me to have to pay this bill for you myself, but I won’t hand over a company with a friend’s open invoice.” If it had been a jeweller, it would have been different. That would have been business.

Are you still friends?

No. But I’ve basically forgiven him. If I were to meet him today, I would say . . .

Michael Köckritz

Michael Köckritz

Editor in Chief
As a journalist, author, artist and media maker, Michael Köckritz succeeds time and again in creating both attention-grabbing and sustainably stimulating impulses in the context of contemporary and future topics as well as lifestyle and luxury worlds. As publisher and editor-in-chief, he has realised a whole series of book and lifestyle magazine formats that have regularly won numerous national and international awards over the years. The car culture magazine ramp, the men's lifestyle magazine rampstyle and the design magazine ramp.design are published internationally and are considered style-setting.
ramp #43 42

ramp #43 42

Die Antwort auf die Frage nach dem Leben, dem Universum und dem ganzen Rest ist nicht unbedingt die, die man hören wollte. Das wissen wir seit Douglas Adams’ Kultroman »Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis«.

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