Charting new territory

Clerck's mission is to sustain the positive evolution of the brand on a global scale.

BENOIT de Clerck doesn’t shy away from a challenge; in fact he quite relishes it. As a seasoned veteran in the watchmaking industry, he has amassed extensive experience at some of the world’s most prominent watch markets across the globe. With extensive watchmaking expertise and a deep knowledge of strategic international business development, he brings over 25 years of executive experience now to Zenith as its chief executive officer.

“I’m delighted to welcome Benoit within the LVMH Watches & Jewelry Division, as the new CEO of Zenith,” said Stéphane Bianchi, CEO of LVMH Watches & Jewelry Division on Clerck’s appointment in January. “Bringing a solid watchmaking expertise, together with a deep knowledge of international business development, he will undoubtedly pursue the great work undertaken by Julien (Tornare) over the previous years and shape the future of Swiss watchmaking with Zenith,” she concluded.

Born in Belgium and raised in Europe, Middle East and North America, Clerck graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, after which he spent much of his career around the globe. Stints in markets such as Dubai, Hong Kong, the US and more honed his strong intercultural skills and fluency for languages.

With his vast expertise abroad and his ability to connect with consumers — especially in an evolving and ever increasingly digital environment — Clerck has tailored successful strategies during his tenure in Panerai as its chief commercial officer and at IWC, which he served as president of the North American market.

Now though, he takes the next step in his illustrious career, helming Switzerland’s first vertically integrated manufacture. As the newly-minted CEO, Clerck will continue to build on Zenith’s successes of the past few years and elaborate the numerous innovations the manufacture has brought forth, including its signature cutting-edge chronographs and high-precision chronometers.

Under Clerck’s leadership, Zenith is set to continue to balance its unrivalled heritage with its forward-looking aspirations and solidify its position as the shining star of the future of Swiss watchmaking. And he is more than up to the task.

What drew you to this role to spearhead Zenith as its CEO?

I have been versed in the watch industry for the past 25 years beginning my journey with TAG Heuer as I opened their office in the Middle East before its acquisition by LVMH. Subsequently, I joined Richemont with different roles across the Middle East, South America, the US and Asia. My journey then led me to Geneva, where I assumed the position of chief commercial officer at Panerai.

But I wanted to grow further and Zenith showed to be the right opportunity in terms of role and for the brand. I wanted something more comprehensive as I was aspiring for a global role, having the final say for marketing, for product, for human resources — this is what drives me.

The prospect of overseeing the entire spectrum of responsibilities greatly appealed to me and Zenith is such a great brand. I feel a connection with it and its authenticity. Of course, there is a risk. I was somehow in a comfort zone at Richemont but this is not my language! Challenges drive me. Joining Zenith is a dream for me.

Touching on your previous background — how will you utilise those experiences in your new role?

I have been very lucky to have lived and worked in numerous countries in different senior managerial positions. Richemont and Panerai have contributed to shape my character and ways of working, so will LVMH as well.

Where would you position Zenith in this competitive market?

Zenith enjoys a great positioning that I clearly call “a lot of watch for the money”. In fact we offer a top premium and notorious chrono movement, this is what Zenith is about, and supported by well- designed and modern watches. I will focus on the amazing “savoir faire” that we have in our manufacture. That means, I will emphasise and capitalise on the expertise and knowledge that Zenith has.

Having been in the driver’s seat for a few months now, what has been the biggest thing that impressed you about the company and the brand?

Definitely its rich heritage and history. We have so much material to work with that needs to be further told, explained and exploited. There are so many true stories in this brand that make the most real and authentic marketing.

In terms of branding, are there specific areas that you will be focusing your attention on?

My focus is to ensure that we deliver the experience of the watch, the quality of our watches, as well as make sure that we continue to acquire new customers and grow our database. In addition, our collectors will be well treated and surprised by what I am working on for next year, where we celebrate 160 years of the brand. Stay tuned to that.

Do you foresee any challenges for Zenith at the moment?

It’s important to remember that with each challenge comes opportunities. This is my motto. Yes, we certainly face challenges, for instance we could develop the retail operations or further communicate the meaningful messages already conveyed in recent years but I consider myself very lucky. Zenith is in a good shape today; my mission is to sustain the positive evolution of the brand on a global scale.

Will you be focusing on certain markets for Zenith in order to grow its presence?

As a brand we are well balanced geographically, that means we do not have one region much stronger than the other. Japan, the US and China are our top three markets; however, we can feel a very serious traction of the brand in South-East Asia, with substantial increase in sales.

While travelling in the area recently, I could see a lot more Zenith on the wrists of people than I had in the past. It is like a secret luxury, and for people in the know.

For the immediate future, what launches are you personally excited for from the brand?

Watches and Wonders was certainly exciting for me as it was the first one for me with Zenith. But overall all market visits for me are exciting and important as I am meeting all teams worldwide and connecting with the local press and clients. This is so important to me.

In terms of products, the Defy Extreme Diver is definitely a great one for me as we have an interesting history with the Diver models in the past and it was time to bring it back.

“It’s important to remember that with each challenge comes opportunities. This is my motto. Zenith is in a good shape today; my mission is to sustain the positive evolution of the brand on a global scale.”

This article first appeared in Star Biz7 weekly edition.

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