After the unexpected passing of Rolf Schnyder, Patrik Hoffmann took over as CEO of Ulysse Nardin. A company known for its innovation and daring, Ulysse Nardin ushered in a new way of thinking about the watch industry. Up until the last decade, watchmaking relied upon tools that have been in in place centuries, shunning the use of modern materials. With the Freak, Ulysse Nardin demonstrated the possibilities of integrating new technologies and improving accuracy and wear with its use of silicium. Now the industry, including such traditional companies as Patek Philippe and Breguet, have embraced this new technology themselves. In the below interview, Hoffmann discusses his background, experience and where Ulysse Nardin will go in the future.
What is your background?
I have a degree in finances and initially worked in the finance department of a Swiss watch company before getting my education and experience in Marketing and Management.
How did you get into the watch business?
I worked in the watch business for my entire life: first in finances, then in marketing/sales in Switzerland, then marketing/management in Malaysia/Singapore/Hongkong, then management in the US. The combination of selling a product that is very technical, artistic and also influenced by fashion always fascinated me.
You have spent the majority of your career at Ulysse Nardin. How is that an advantage when taking on the job of CEO?
I have not only worked at Ulysse Nardin. I have worked with Rolf Schnyder and the existing management at Ulysse Nardin for the last 12 years and I spent the last 3 years commuting between Florida and Le Locle. Ulysse Nardin’s direction and philosophy was headed by Rolf Schnyder together with his team (including myself). When Rolf Schnyder passed away, there was no need to change course and I was immediately able to make use of my experience that I gained within Ulysse Nardin. It is a tremendous advantage that the management team including myself can continue to sail the UN ship in the same direction and with the same philosophy as before. I can pull from the experience gained over the last 12 years within the company.
As CEO of Ulysse Nardin, what is your role in the company?
Ulysse Nardin is a healthy company with a clear structure and a well-functioning management team that has been in place for many years. Therefore I see my role as a teamleader and my colleagues will be very much involved in decision making.
For a relatively small company like Ulysse Nardin, it is important to stay focused and build on our success with a clear strategy – in particular with regards to products.
Ulysse Nardin was always independent and family owned and I will ensure to maintain a culture which allows all our employees to feel as part of the Dreamteam and to be proud of the success we are enjoying and the extraordinary products we produce.
What type of leader are you? What is your approach?
I see myself as ‘leading by example’ and I am convinced that teamwork works best in a company that is sailing with a clear direction. Of course a ship needs a captain that ensures that the ship is sailing into the right direction but he needs a team that stands behind him. My colleagues and co-workers can expect my full trust and freedom to develop themselves within the boundaries and structure of the company.
Rolf Schnyder was such a defining force in the company. How will you make your own mark?
My role is different than Rolf Schnyder’s used to be. Rolf was the owner of the company and set the direction. It is now my role to pursue the success of Ulysse Nardin together with my team. I believe that for a company, as innovative as Ulysse Nardin, the product has to be the focus of our efforts. The product itself will be the Ambassador of our brand.
With that being said, you can be sure that Ulysse Nardin as a whole will set future marks with new innovative products.
What plans do you have for Ulysse Nardin? In which direction do you see the company going?
There are two key words to answer that question: “Independence” and “Innovation”! Innovation was key to the success of Ulysse Nardin and it is our goal to keep that success alive with new innovations. ‘Independence’ we have been working on successfully for the last decade. With the introduction of our new in-house caliber 118, we have set a clear direction for more independence.
From the communication side it is obvious that the globalization of the markets and how people communicate will further change how watch companies will approach their customers. Even if Ulysse Nardin is considered a more conservative manufacture, we will be more active through new communication channels.
Do you and Ulysse Nardin ever feel too much pressure to stay at the forefront as a self-defined technology pioneer?
Pressure is not something that works together with innovation and it certainly doesn’t work for watchmakers, artists, and artisans. Our cooperation with Ludwig Oechslin and ideas that came from him allows our team of technicians, engineers, and watchmakers to work on new projects for many years to come.
Congratulations on producing Calibre UN-118, your first completely in-house produced base calibre. Why is being fully integrated so important when other reliable base movements are readily available and you’ve relied upon them for your production?
We have produced several in-house movements before: GMT Perpetual, Freak, Sonata, 160th Anniversary. Of which the GMT Perpetual, the Freak, and the Sonata have won several prizes. The Caliber UN-118 is the first ‘base’ caliber that is produced in-house and it will be in larger quantities than the above mentioned in-house movements.
There are several aspects on why this base caliber is important to us: one is independence: under the leadership of Pierre Gygax and Lucas Humair we have built a manufacture which allows us to become more independent and to produce our innovative ideas in-house. Base movements in the quality that we require them are not just ‘readily’ available (as you mentioned in your question) but with our own manufacture calibers we are able to be support the steady growth of Ulysse Nardin in general.
Which watch is your current favorite in the collection and why?
I am not able to answer that question – it would be like having to tell you which of my three sons was my favorite one. All of our watches have their own story, their own development and their own place in our collection.
With that being said, this year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Freak and the Freak has a very special place within the UN history and therefore also for me. The Freak is not only a milestone for Ulysse Nardin but for the watch industry in general – aesthetically and technically. A decade ago the Freak was one of the first timepieces that was ‘opened’ up from the dial side and it was the first timepiece ever that was equipped with silicium escapement parts.