EXPIRED: 06/28/10 – Nicolas Hayek, 82, was a engineering management consultant who, in 1982, was ordered by the Swiss banking industry to plan the bankruptcy of the national watch industry.
It seemed that people just weren’t wearing accurate watches that much anymore (the Japanese digital numbers were flooding the market), and, well, if Swiss timepieces were on the way out, better cut your losses early….
But Hayek saw things differently. Instead of managing the bankruptcy of the companies that brought us Omega, Longines and Tissot, he merged them into one company and then bought a 51% stake in the company.
The next year that company, SMH, started mass-producing a small plastic wristwatch with a typical quartz movement that ran on a simple, replaceable battery. It had enviable European styling, but was as disposable as it was collectible. And since they were so cheap to make, the company’s designers and engineers could crank out new styles regularly, satiating the publics desire to have the latest versions strapped to their wrists. There were 8 styles in 1983. Today there are over 300 a year. And the original Keith Haring favorites keep coming back! (I still have mine.)
They were called Swatch. And today the Swatch Company is the world’s biggest manufacturer of watches, worth 5 billion Swiss francs annually.
And Hayek wasn’t really even Swiss (his father was Lebanese and his mother was American, and they adopted Hayek as a boy and then moved to Switzerland). He ran the company in a very un-Swiss way. While the Swiss are usually very conservative in business, Hayek would regularly wear 4 Swatches on each arm to show off his product in business meetings.
He took that passion to automobile development in the late 90’s when he developed the SmartCar, which was intended to be big enough to fit two adults and a crate of beer. A fun alternative to driving.
It didn’t sell well originally, but you’re starting to see them around the states now – perhaps because Mercedes bought out Hayek and marketed the hell out of it.
So his legacy? Take a look at something people take for granted and look at it differently. Hayek did, and he brought fun back into a dying industry. Follow that lead.