may 2017
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march 2017

Max Büsser, CEO of MB&F

Cut and Thrust

So has this been one of those great love stories?

 
Max Büsser:
23 years and still going strong! I was doing a work placement with Audemars Piguet when we met for the first time…
 
Laurent Picciotto:
You’d just spent almost three hours at the store subjecting me to an incredible barrage of questions!
 
Max Büsser:
The worst of it is that I originally had no intention of working in watchmaking. My background is in engineering; after having spent 50 hours a week on equations, it was a strange thing for me to be talking about feelings, emotions and the human side of things with you.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
I did my best to sell you a bronze Gefica Safari, but you put up stiff resistance!
 
Max Büsser:
I wasn’t far from giving in – I almost spent all my savings on it! But at that time, I didn’t yet have any intention of joining the world of watchmaking. My plan was to have a marketing position with Procter & Gamble or Nestlé in Asia. Fortune decided otherwise when, in 1991, I met Henry-John Belmont, then Managing Director at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Three weeks later, he laid it on the line for me: “At P&G, you’ll be one of 200,000. With us in the Joux Valley, you’ll be one of a dozen people – people who could save this venerable company.” Looked at that way, it didn’t take me long to reach my decision.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
Whereas as far as I was concerned, I’d simply missed a sale (laughter)!
 

Were you already working with Jaeger LeCoultre?

 
Laurent Picciotto:
Yes, in 1991, I took on 15 brands including JLC. Those were great, relatively carefree years! Then Max left to join Harry Winston. But I still kept an eye on his career. When I ran across him in Geneva in 2003, I remember being impressed by how he had become the real boss of Harry Winston Timepieces. He seemed to be really laid-back.
 
Max Büsser:
That was how things ended up, yes. But you have to have fought the war to enjoy the peace, as they say. My war involved getting Harry Winston back on its feet. After that, in 2005, I was finally able to make my entrepreneurial and creative dream come true and set up MB&F.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
Max got back in touch with me just after his decision to leave HW. I must admit that I’d been somewhat exasperated at not being able to have Opuses because I wasn’t doing Harry Winston. I’d said as much to Max, who answered me with a wry smile: “Wait a little longer.” A few months later, the first designs for Horological Machines arrived.
 
Max Büsser:
Even though I hadn’t been planning on European distribution for them (laughter)!
 
Laurent Picciotto:
That really blew me away. As did the HM1, in fact. I was cautious all the same. The direction you were taking was improbable but interesting. It was just what was needed to upset the applecart.
 
Max Büsser:
The markets I was targeting had expressed the interest I’d hoped for; I’d already established a trust-based relationship with them throughout the Harry Winston years. However, I had no business history with Laurent – just a long-standing friendship. I didn’t think he’d take the HM1 purely on the basis of the blueprints.
 

If it hadn’t been for the Opuses, would you have considered MB&F all the same?

 
Laurent Picciotto:
I think things would have been very different. The Opuses were forerunners of the HMs.
 

And what about you, Max – did you hesitate before choosing Chronopassion?

 
Max Büsser:
No, Laurent was in my top 5, and history has proved me right: he was the one who sold the very first HM1.
 

Did you supply him with a robust sales pitch to go with it?

 
Max Büsser:
Not at all, that’s his job not mine (laughter)! I’m not at all at ease with sales.
 
Laurent Picciotto:
In any case, you were unknown as a watchmaker and you only had one watch to offer!
 
Max Büsser:
My dream – of no longer having to be afraid of whether or not I would make any sales – has come true. And what’s more, I now have loyal customers dating back to the very first HM.
 

Loyal to your brand… and to you! Laurent, if Max goes on to new adventures, will you carry on with the Horological Machine saga nonetheless?

 
Laurent Picciotto:
Max has made a very strong personal mark on the brand. Of course, we’ve seen some very good things come out of brilliant takeovers, such as the Hayek / Breguet twosome. But of course, we’d be paying very close attention for a while if that were to happen here.
 
Max Büsser:
Rest assured, that won’t be happening any time soon – I still have plenty of projects in store. Stay tuned, as they say!
 
Journalist : Olivier Müller (02/2013)