This is a text version of Jerome Pineau’s radio interview with star guest founder of MB&F, Max Busser.
Maximilian Busser was handed the reins of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces at just 31 years old. The company was next to bankruptcy and without identity or direction. Seven years after the enigmatic Busser took control, Harry Winston had created a series of timepieces that had changed the world of horology and inspired countless new boutique brands. At the peak of Harry Winston’s success, Busser left to form his own company, Maximilian Busser & Friends (MB&F), with less than half the money required to get the project off the ground. Today MB&F is one of the most revered brands in the industry.
Interview with Maximilian Busser
Jerome: My beautiful co host is talking to us from Hollywood, Los Angeles,California. Hello Meehna. What time is it out there?
Meehna: It is a glorious 7.30 am
Jerome: Have we had breakfast yet?
Meehna: No breakfast but just some coffee.
Jerome: Coffee is good. Thanks everybody for tuning into our first show here. It has been many, many years in the making. Well not really it has been three or four weeks in the making.
Jerome talks about structure of the show and about himself. See introduction above.
Jerome: We are starting off with a really cool guest today. His name is Maximilian Busser he runs MB&F, which is pretty amazing independent watch company. Have a listen to the web radio show, you can download the podcast later on from the achieves. We did the show because we felt there is nothing else like it on the market. Right Meehna?
It is kinda rare to find a live opportunity to actually talk to people who make the watches that we wear and we love, and ask them questions about their business…
Meehna: I wanted to talk to these people. It would every interesting just to know a little more about their lives, about their watches and we will find out what makes them work, and what makes them tick.
Jerome: Exactly you got it.
Meehna: Goldsmith Watch Match Maker
Jerome: Meehna has come up with a really unique concept called watch match-making. Do you really want to talk a little about that?
Meehna: I am a watch match-maker and it is similar to matchmaking with people, except I match you with you with a watch, so that you fall in love with your watch and you have an excellent relationship.
What I do is I get to know people and see what they want? What would be a good a watch match for them, based on their lifestyle, the personality, the statement they want to make. Kind of like when you match somebody up with another person.
Jerome: That sounds awesome. It sound like the millionaire match maker except you are doing it with watches, and not the sexy ladies there.
Meehna: Yes, but I could match you with a million dollar watch if you wanted one.
Jerome: If anybody is out there looking for a million dollar perfect watch match… and we will take care of you. The meat and potatoes here. His name is Max Busser. Meehna why don’t you tell us a little bit about him, his company and where he comes from? I know that he started out Jaeger-LeCoultre, in the U.S. We call it JLC right?
Max Busser at Jaeger-LeCoultre
Meehna: We call it JLC because our French accent is atrocious, you don’t want to hear mine.
Jerome: I have used JLC out here in Switzerland, and people look at me, what are you talking about? He has quiet an amazing history.
Meehna: Yes, he really is the UFO in the horology world, and he really is way up there and projected out in to the universe and not only with his ideas. He started at JLC. And worked in upper management for seven years. A man when he was 31 years old, Harry Winston time pieces recruited him to come and resuscitate that brand, they were almost in bankruptcy.
Harry Winston was known for their diamonds and jewellery, they also had a watch department but it was not doing very well. So they brought in Max to resuscitate that brand. And he came up with this amazing concept. And today Harry Winston is still going on with. It was called the Opus series, and what Max (Harry Winston) did was to team up with independent talented watch makers, to come up with theses with these really limited, unique and ground breaking watches. He looked at watches in a different way. He did that for another seven years. Seven years seems to be his magic number.
And then in 2005 he really had an entrepreneurial spirit, and all these creative ideas, that did not necessarily fit in with the Harry Winston time piece brand. And he established MB&F, which stands for Maximilian Busser and Friends,and he stared doing the same context.
He getting a collective of very creative people to come in and break the boundaries of horology. He really did stun the horology world when he came up with his horological machine number one, that had a sort of Jules Verne feel to it.
Jerome: It is an amazing machine. Actually sometimes you look and think these are not time pieces they are art work, they just happen to give you the time its like a bonus, as he likes to say you don’t have to pay extra for it. I love that line. Max is on the air, and will join us in a few moments.
Max: Hello Meehna and Jerome, thanks you very much for inviting me and thanks to Meehna for the introduction.
Jerome: Thanks, it is a pleasure to have you. Thanks for being the first guy to say yes, when we called out for a really cool guest. You are at the top of the game in this industry, we are very happy to have you on. We have a couple of questions, product, company and Max and friends questions. Meehna you have a couple of questions for Max to get started.
Winning the design concept award
Meehna: First of all I want to congratulate you for winning the design in concept award at the Geneva watch maker Grand Prix, that is a really cool thing Max, how did you feel about winning that?
Max: We don’t create products to win prizes, we are in a very very creative selfish process, where we create for ourselves to please ourselves. And we are happy when clients like what we do.
It was a bit of shock, we did not expect the industries establishment to recognise what we are trying do. And when I was on stage it was an important moment for me. My whole team was jumping up and down on the seats, and everybody was very proud of it. It was great.
Meehna: While you said you only create for yourself. That’s a pretty tough act to follow, I guess it doesn’t matter because you are always going to create for yourself. Can you give us any hints of what is coming up next?
The MB&F Thunderbolt
Max: It doesn’t really matter, we get all our joy out of being able to create our crazy outlandish ideas and make them come true, and work with these fantastic people.
Every year we create a new machine. Thunderbolt which was just prior to number four,this year there will be a new one. And every year we have a variation on the existing machines. We tend not to show the most important new product of the year at Geneva Basel show. Why? Because the major brands, with major voices in the market are being screamed to be heard, we whisper basically and nobody can hear us.
We basically come up with really interesting variations of our existing products during Geneva and Basel. In Geneva will were representing the last of the number two machine, it had a three and half years life, and when we started we were only going to give it three and half to four years life. Although it is still selling we are stopping it.
So we are coming out with the swan song the final editions, then at the end of the years that is the end of machine two.
Meehna: I actually talked about that on my site watchmatchmaker.com. It is a really cool piece and you often try to push the engineering boundaries, especially when you are playing around with Sapphire crystal.
And this one is really amazing, and you are really featuring the machine and where that’s you can gaze into that, through that crystal and it almost disappears, and you can really have a great panorama of that movement.
Max: It is an amazing piece, and it would not have been possible with out Martin Steltaler who nobody knows, who is a big manufacturer of Sapphire crystals here in Switzerland. Everybody we went to see, when we wanted to create the SV with the plans. Impossible we went to Japan and China who said it was impossible. Martin who does many top brands, says Max you are nuts, but we are going to try. He is the owner of the company, and they managed to also create an incredible sapphire piece of the Thunderbolt, and everybody had closed the door in our face. Not only did they try but they managed.
That is what is incredible at MB&F, we manage to find these incredible craft people who take risks. That why also we call them friends. Not just because of the craftsmanship but because they take risks.
Jerome: How many Facebook friends do you have, and in your outfit how many people have you brought in? You love working with them from what I understand.
The watchmaking team
Max: There are eight of us in the company here. There are three watch makers out of the eight. We assemble everything in the house, we get all the different parts manufactured by the friends. Now these friends partners are about 35 of them on each machine. It is a bit like Mission Impossible, we assemble the best crew for each mission. The friends have become larger, because initially it was only the people who were helping us to craft the pieces. Then came the retailers who helped us and believed in us and promoted the brand when nobody knew we existed. And then came the customers, we have an incredible community of customers. We have today, I was counting today and I fell off my chair. We have many more customers who have at least two three or more of our machines, then customers who have only got one.
The success of repeat customers
Jerome: I read that, yes that over 50 percent of your customer base already own two of your pieces. That is amazing. So it is all about repeat customers. That is totally amazing.
Max: Understandable after five years I can start understanding why, as we had no idea who were going to understand what we were going to do. We are so radical that the people who like what we do, they love what we do. Maybe 98% of the world percent doesn’t understand or hate what we do, when you really like it, you love it and it talks to you. As you are special and you are different and you understand what we are trying to do.
Jerome: Do your customers find the machines, or do you go after them and find the customers? You are in a pretty up in price, how do you grab people like that?
Max: First of all our retail partners they are at the front and they are we proud of what we are doing and show it to their great customers. Second and becoming more and more important, now I am even wondering what is more important. Clearly it is is the internet and the PR around the brand.
You’ve always got the earlier doctors, the people who dare to buy my MB&F HM1 when it came out, when MB&F was nothing, and they took the risk of buying a $200,000 piece of horology from a brand that was unknown. Those guys had serious guts.
I’m not telling you that the company is buying one today but three and half years ago we were at the cutting edge, then these people mostly have become extremely faithful customers, because they are so proud of what we are doing, they are part of the community and part of the team. The people who are coming now, because they see it on the net and editorials, or they see their friends wearing them are the second generation of buyers.
Meehna: Do you remember I was one of the first people to see MB&F HM1 at that dinner?
Max: That was in LA.
Meehna: Yes it was in L.A. when you first unveiled it, That was an amazing moment everybody was twittering it when you revealed the machine.
Global watch market
Jerome: Would you say your primary markets are U.S. and Asia or is it spreading elsewhere, is it a planetary thing or are you targeting certain markets? Do Certain markets do better with MB&F then others?
Max: We have no power in convincing people, we love creating what we do. So basically it is the clients or the markets who decide what they like or don’t like. What I see today, and that’s a very personal vision of it, is that 50 per cent of our pieces. We just finished 2010 doing a 152 pieces, the year before we did 143, so globally we do about 12 pieces a month. Half of those 152 pieces went to Asia, South East Asia..Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. We are not in China YET.
That is the biggest market, and 20 percent go to America, and 30 percent goes to Europe, but in Europe many of the pieces are sold to Asian and American customers.
The breakdown is 65% Asia 25% America the rest Europe.
Meehna: I was really interested that you worked more traditional companies like JLC and Harry Winston, and you really took horology, and you went 3d and sculpture on it. Do you think the big brands could be more creative, given the financial means they have?
Max: That is a tricky question. I think everyone should follow their own path.
Nobody would understand that if Patrick Phillippe came out with piece like what we do. It would not make any sense. I think it is super important that they are the guardians of our values and traditions. Each one should follow his own path. When marketeers start coming in and start saying the clients want this, lets do this, I think then you lose your sole. The brands that just follow the path are not bothered about what the trend is what the clients want, and that is what makes the strength of such a craftsmanship and emotional… important industry as ours.
Marketing MB&F watches
Jerome: We have a caller… are you there?
CALLER: I came across the talk radio show on linked in, contacted Jerome the horologist in Switzerland he told me about the show, and I wanted to call in mention, what I think on the marketing. I think the statement about they focused their designs and that the people really loved them, I think good marketing creates either love or hate. This neutralist feeling that’s not good marketing. If you have someone who hates it, you will probably find someone that loves the design.
Jerome: I think you are on the right road, what do you think Max? You agree with that?
Max: I would agree, but at the same-time I hate marketing. For fourteen years I created watches for other people, I created watches so that they would sell more so we would make more money, and I was pretty good at it. But it is a complete abdication of yourself as a human being.
It is all about seduction it is not about who you are, and in life it should not be like that. Of course there is an economy here, we talking of a business. And for me MB&F was a life decision. I don’t want to please everybody. I want to be selfish I want create what I believe in. I am not here to change the world of horology, I don’t have any statement like that. I am just enjoying myself, without caring if people like it. That is my life decision, of course that means that money is not there, I work even much more than 80 hours a week. That’s not a problem, my freedom comes at a price and I am happy to pay for it.
CALLER: I think the contributors style is very nice and he delivers very well.
Jerome: Thank you caller and thanks.
Max, I am not sure if you are familiar with posust questionnaire which is a literature thing. We are going to ask these questions to everybody who come on the show, would you mind going through does real quick? This are off the cuff, we have 3 mins left on the interview unfortunately. If you want we run through these, if you don’t want to answer just blow me off. Let me run through these real quick.
What is the brand you like most?
Max: Wow, I have to say brands, and I would have to say individuals. Because today being an entrepreneur and creator, what I admire is people like Felix Baumgartner who followed his path. And did whatever he wanted when even the market didn’t understand what he was doing. Fracois pertion is a carry fruit ta linen and a delfay foultioler, and David Tennant with the Butuan. All these people create their own product, they are not marketing products. That is why I love all these people.
Jerome: Max, as a boss are you respected or feared?
Max: Definitely not feared. Practically all my team from MB&F have followed me from Winston and Edgar, there must be a reason they followed me.
Jerome: Most important watch markets from you in 2011?
Max: Clearly Asia.
Jerome: The most important event in the history of your company Max?
Max: The beginning of August 2005 its creation.
Jerome: What do you think about internet sales for watches, is that good or bad thing for the industry?
Max: Not only is it totally necessary it is a fantastic thing.
Jerome: The most important person in your life Max?
Max: I have practically no family left, I only have my mother so it would be her.
Jerome: What is your favourite time of day?
Jerome: Thank you Max, we are pretty done with the interview we have five mins left, it has been very enlightening Meehna you want to add something?
Meehna: I want to thank you Max for coming on. Your watches are interesting and thought provoking and stimulating, and I really love following your machines and your career. Also being friends with you through the watchworld, so thank you for coming on and talking about watches.
Max: Thanks you both. I must tell you one thing, why I immediately accepted, I have known Meehna for years, But what your doing is something I wanted to do on my website but never had the courage to do. An interactive show and we never came to it, and so you guys are the first and congratulations.
Jerome: Thank you buddy that’s very nice of you. That’s salvation, you are one of the greatest man and thanks for coming on and I appreciate it. I look forward to seeing you next week probably.
Meehna: Bye bye. That was very interesting, we had 300 questions in 15 mins, and that clearly was not going to fly. But I think we got some good ones in there.
Meehna: He is very candid and I really like that, and you can really get to the bottom of what he thinks. The caller came in and said it is a lot of marketing and when you interview Max there seems not to be marketing I
Meehna: What you see what you hear is what you get, is the feeling of what I got from that. I never met the man in person, but this to shall pass very quickly. He is a go getter man he is the real deal. His website MBandF.com is where you will find and discover Max’s amazing creations.
I strongly encourage everybody to go there who has not heard of the brand as they are something to look at. Even if you cannot afford the watch, a $200,000 it is still nice to go there and look at the thing it, because it is art. It is like going to a museum you cant afford a Piccaso just looking at it is pleasurable.