This is a text version of Jerome Pineau’s radio interview with Nathalie Veysset, MD of DeWitt.
Interview with Nathalie Veysset, MD of DeWitt
Nathalie Veysett is a former lawyer, tax advisor and accountant, the daughter of a watchmaker, she grew up in La Chaux-de-Fonds surrounded by famous watch brands including Zenith, Ulysse Nardin, Corum, Cartier, Concord, Girard-Perregaux, and Breitling. Together with company founder Jerome de Witt she has taken an audacious approach to the often-staid Swiss watch industry. In eight years, Geneva-based watchmaker DeWitt has become known for its innovative design, attention to detail, and more recently, its drive for vertical integration.
Jerome: Women leaders are few and far between in the watch industry. We actually managed to find one, we asked her to come on the show and talk to us about the manufacturer she runs. Her background, and how she got to be in a such a great leadership position.
She was born in the Switzerland, and she actually comes from a financial and banking background.
Since 2008 she has been running a watch manufacture called Dewitt. She’s has managed to steer the company through the recent crisis years, in a really brilliant way. Ladies and gentleman she is taking names and kicking butt in the watch business. Her name is Nathalie Veysett , welcome Nathalie to the show.
Nathalie Veysett: Hello good afternoon everybody. I am very fine how are you?
Jerome: Thanks joining us, and I know you are on vacation. I appreciate you taking the time from wherever you are to dial in and talk to our listeners.
Nathalie Veysett: My pleasure.
Women leaders in the world of horology
Jerome: So listen, I know you are the only one who has this answer in the world. Why are there so few women leaders in horology?
Nathalie Veysett: I am not the only one to have this answer in the world. That’s not true. There are few of us, they are not very numerous. We have few ones, I don’t know actually know why we are so few. Maybe because the gentleman owners of the brand are not so courageous like Mr Dewitt to have women run their company.
Jerome: How many women leaders do you think there are in the watch industry?
Nathalie Veysett: Ten of fifteen, something like this.
Jerome: Do you guys have a club, do you get together and talk to them?
Nathalie Veysett: I talk to some of them, but we don’t have a club like segregated from everybody else, no.
Jerome: I hear your father was a watch-maker is that true?
Nathalie Veysett: Yes, it is true, I tried to escape but life caught me back in.
Getting into horology
Jerome: Always attracted to watches. How did you get started? Obviously your dad was in the watch making business. So I know it has something to do with that. You were in banking. How did you get to where you are at today?
Nathalie Veysett: I studied law, taxation, accounting, auditing and things like this. I ended up working in a bank. The supervisory of the bank was working for private banking clients. Amongst my clients I had a certain Mr Dewitt, and I worked for him for a couple of years. And that’s how we met. When I told him I was tired of working where I was working, and I wanted a change. He offered me to join his company.
Jerome: So he had actually bought it, and was looking for somebody to lead it?
Nathalie Veysett: No. He had founded it actually, five or six years before, when he hired me.
It was the fifth year when I started to work at Dewitt. He had founded the company, and the company had grown up very quickly. He was looking for someone who with more financial, and to put some structure in the company because the company had grown from a very small organisation of 15 people, to much a bigger organisation of almost 80 people. They need some one with more financial and instructive background to put some structure in place.
Jerome: He comes to you and makes you an offer you cant refuse?
Nathalie Veysett: I had worked for him on a totally different topic. So he knew how I and he had functioned, and I think he liked it. Actually what I really liked in the offer he was giving to me, was the I would have the opportunity to work with a product. Not only a product one of the most beautiful products you could find. That what attracted to me to the company.
Jerome: Did you know about his watches before, had you seen them and liked them?
First time discovering DeWitt
Nathalie Veysett: Yes I had discovered the DeWitt one occasion before at the Baselworld. I didn’t know about the brand. Just a few month later he became my client, in the bank where I used to work and so I had plenty of opportunities to visit the manufacturing to see the watches, before I even started to work.
Jerome: You come from banking and finances. What kind of skill sets does that bring to Dewitt and watch manufacturers? Are there any links between the two universes?
Nathalie Veysett: The banking background gives you a lot of structure in the way to approach services. The area we were working in was very specific, because I had so many problems to deal with at the same time. I really had to have a broad approach on problems. I had to find different people with different skills to solve the problem I was facing. That’s one big thing I learned in the bank, the things like banking and watch-making have in common, especially the high end watch-making, is the clients.
It is the same clients, so I got to know the clients really well.
Jerome: So that what you brought in to Dewitt. What are the price ranges on the watches?
Nathalie Veysett: We start with 20,000 Swiss franks up to a few hundred thousand for our collection watches. If the client wants something special and tailor made it can sky rocket. It depends on the clients wishes.
The DeWitt manufacture
Jerome: You run a manufacture, it is not just a brand that takes other peoples movements and uses it. What makes your movement and complications different? Tell me from a technical product specific, in a nut shell what is the scoop on Dewiit?
Nathalie Veysett: We are announcing this year a new tourbillion regulator with automatic seconds for winding. Which is a movement that has entirely been developed and made in the manufacture. We have already presented the movement last year, and this iis very special because we have been able develop a very special winding system that has been patented. This system allows you to keep an almost constant force in the movement, because there is a kind of a clutch system in the winding that makes the movement always rewind at its best between 92 and 96 percent of the winding. This is very specific.
We have developed another tourbillion manual that is complete made in the manufacture.
Apart from this Mr DeWitt thas been very creative, and we have come up with DeWitt WX1 and the DeWitt Antipode that are very, very complicated and innovative watches.
Gaining knowledge in the watch industry
Jerome: We have one thing in common. We are not from the watch industry originally, and you know a zillion more things then I ever will. How did you come up to speed on the industry, especially the technical aspects of it. You have to know all this stuff inside out if you are a manufacture. Did you read? Take classes? What is the secret?
Nathalie Veysett: I took classes.
Nathalie Veysett: I took some classes in with some watchmakers, just to learn to the basics. I am not a watchmaker myself, but I needed to know and understand the movements and how it was working.
Then I listened a lot to the people talking in the company. I started to go to all the technical and plan review meetings. Everything to learn a bit more, and I also had private classes with my dad. Fortunately he was there.
Bringing changes to the business of DeWitt
Jerome: I’d like to talk to you about the business side. I believe you done a lot of great work at the company and you have restructured distribution I think. Can you give us a little hands on what were the problems if any, when you came in? How you handled it what exactly did you do? What marching orders you gave. How did you keep the ship sailing smoothly through the rough years?
Nathalie Veysett: We wanted to do is what many other companies our size, with all kinds of products wanted to do. We were basically selling through people who helped us a lot to develop the company. But if we wanted to grow up, we needed people with larger financial means, and a longer term view on how to develop business.
In some countries we had partners who could help us not go farther. That was the time we had to resolve. I have two colleagues to help me with product sales and they have been working in the industry for 15 to 20 years, so they know the market perfectly. So what we did is observe the different markets that were key for us.
And to make sure that we were choosing the right partner with the right strategy, and then we approached them and we convinced them. It was not very complicated it just needed some work. You have to be very systematic and approach things with a clear view, and what you want to achieve.
Then you just work. That’s it.
Sales and outlets
Jerome: I hear you. How many points of sale do you have in the world?
Nathalie Veysett: We have 85 now, we decreased from a little over 100 to 85, to keep the people who really inline with what we are doing. Who were ready to support us and who were sharing our philosophy.
We prefer to have to have less point of sales, and have the right ones, rather than having too many and having all the problems that you can have our kind of brands, like discounts, those sorts of things.
Jerome: Are the Dewitt family involved in the day to day affairs of the business or do they give you free reign in the business?
Nathalie Veysett: The way we work with the DeWitt is very incredible, as he has so much trust and confidence in me.
So he is not involved in the operations, it is not his favourite thing, but he is very involved in the creation and development, and also the promotion of the brand.
So basically we talk a lot, and we share the visions he has for his company, and I am very very careful to follow what he wants to do, and to stick to his values, philosophy and vision. Apart from this I talk to him about everything I do, and he almost always says yes, I just have to convince him.
Working with Jerome DeWitt
Jerome: Is he a nice guy to work for? He is a descendent of Napoleon right? It must be kind of weird working for a descendent of Napoleon?
Nathalie Veysett: Actually it is very interesting, because he is not a person who is talking about his family history a lot.
He is very simple, accessible. He likes to talk to people. He makes himself very easy to reach, I would say I really can see where he comes from in the way he thinks and what his drivers are.
He is not a person who is driven by fame or money, he is driven by his passion. I think it is because of his background, he those not have to need to be recognised or famous, as he had this in his family for centuries.
The settings of power and wealth have been in the family for centuries, so he really is not looking for that.
He is living to be driven by his passions. It is not always easy to work with him, but very interesting that’s for sure.
Jerome: I am sure it is not boring. Would you say you guys are friends?
Nathalie Veysett: I would not exclude that we are friends, butI don’t see the relationship that way he is my boss. We have a lot of respect, and we talk very freely. I can say everything to him and he does the same with me. It is really a nice relationship very special.
Jerome: A lot of our listeners are in the US. I want to talk to you about the US market for Dewitt. Important not important? Lets talk about Uncle Sam. What’s going on with Dewitt out there?
Nathalie Veysett: Last year we decided we needed to go to the next step with the development of the North American market. So we decided to incorporate a subsidiary which we did.
Since almost a year now we have a new vice president who representing and developing us in the US market. We have now two offices, we have an office in Miami and office in New York, and we are putting a lot of effort in developing this market. It is very important to us. And I am very glad actually to find the right ambassadors to carry our watches in that country.
Jerome: Who are the ambassadors?
Nathalie Veysett: We work with people in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. These are the right people to carry our watches.
Jerome: I thought you meant celebrity ambassadors?
Nathalie Veysett: No we don’t have celebrity ambassadors.
The American market
Jerome: Do you think there is a particular corresponding between the American psych and the way the market is over there, and the Dewitt product and approach? Is it particularly well targeted for the US, or it just happens to a big market and you want to be in it?
Nathalie Veysett: I think that American clients are very emotional and they like to dream. In that sense our watches can find their targets.
The Asian and Chinese market
Jerome: I read an article you wrote in a big Swiss newspaper, and you talked about Asia in particular China market. You make the argument that a lot of brands are putting all the eggs in one basket, and you kind of warn against that. So what is your view on the Chinese market for Dewitt?
Nathalie Veysett: For Dewitt it is a very good market. I would not be looking like the person who does not recognise.
But for me because today, and probably tomorrow China and Asia is a very good market we should concentrate on it only. The structural problems that have brought Russia and the US into a lot of difficulties, you can find them in China too.
If you rely only on developing China and put all your money and effort there, and you don’t develop your other markets, the day China has some troubles – as you already see the banks are struggling with cash since the beginning of the year – you will be in a very bad position.
The Audacity marketing campaign
Jerome: The other thing I want to ask you about is your marketing campaign, I think it is called the audacity campaign?
Tell me about that it is really interesting and unique.
Nathalie Veysett: Communication is the topic that has been discussed a lot inside the company and with Mr Dewitt.
It was very difficult to find something that would recognise what is bringing to the company.
Eventually we found out that actually Mr Dewitt would always repeat the same thing. He respects and tradition and watch making tradition. Actually he has built up a kind of museum in the company, at the entrance of the company. It is not a museum of watches it is a museum of tools as he wants to pay tribute the art of watch-making.
At the same time he always says he wants to reinvent the traditional watch making, and put some innovations. We thought OK how can we expand that into a communication campaign, and that is how we came up with the classical audacity.
Because we thought Mr Dewitt is very classical, but also very audacious in his way as an entrepreneur. The way we do the watches is always traditional watchmaking with some twists, so that’s how we come up with that.
So we are taking things like paintings, and dressing them with small items like a pair of sunglasses, car keys, big hat or things like this. We have more to come, as we are working on new visuals.
Jerome: Are they being well received those adverts?
Nathalie Veysett: They have been very controversial, for me one very good example.
I was in the US and visiting friends of their. We small talking with the people in the shop, and my friend said I am now working with Dewitt. The person in shop said ‘Oh the people with the funny ads’. And they don’t even carry the brands. I was wondering how many of their brands they were carry they would be able to recognise the ads.
Jerome: That’s a bingo for your marketing people and yourself. That is defiantly a score.
Who designs the watches
Jerome: In terms of designs is it Mr DeWitt,or do you have in house designers. How does it work?
Nathalie Veysett: We have an in house designer, and Mr Dewitt works with him very closely. The creation process at Dewitt is like this.
Someone from the team being Mr Dewitt, or somebody else comes up with an idea, and we start to work on it. It is a long period of exchanges to try and decide on the final version on how we are going to develop it.
Jerome: Are you guys going to be at Basel this year, and what are you showing for Dewitt?
Nathalie Veysett: We are going to show our new regulator with automatic seconds winding. We are going to have a new tourbillion manual. An we are going to launch our new ladies watches. A big programme for this year.
Three quick questions
Jerome: I have some questions I ask every guest who appears on this show. They are really quick answers so don’t give it any thought, just answer point blank. If you were not in the watch business what would you be doing?
Nathalie Veysett: I don’t know.
Jerome: Who is the most important person in your life?
Nathalie Veysett: My family and friends.
Jerome: What is your favourite time of the day?
Nathalie Veysett: The night, because it is very quiet and it is a good moment for thinking I guess.
Jerome: I want to thank everyone for listening to what time is it? It has been a pleasure talking to you Natalie managing director at DeWitt, it has been a pleasure talking to you and learning about the brand and how you work with it. If people want to know more about the brand where should they go?
Nathalie Veysett: We have A Facebook page and our site is www.Dewitt.ch