Guido Terreni was appointed CEO at Parmigiani Fleurier in January 2021 after years of successfully leading the repositioning of Bulgari Horlogerie as one of the best global watch brands in the luxury market. Under Guido’s leadership at Bulgari, the company had achieved 57 international watchmaking prizes and six world records in the area of ultra-thin movements. Guido is now leading Parmigiani Fleurier, a family-owned brand where the founder himself, Michel Parmigiani, is very much involved. Since his appointment, the watch industry has been curious about his upcoming leadership strategies, which remained unrevealed. I had the pleasure to speak with Guido Terreni about his new role’s vision, plans, and strategy.
Chan: You came from a highly successful career with Bulgari. What are your strategies and vision for repositioning Parmigiani Fleurier in the luxury watch market?
Terreni: I think in the last ten years, there’s been an incredible transformation of what consumers are today. There is momentum for niche brands as institutional brands have become even more mainstream. The savvy, cultivated, and educated private client loves the craft and art of watchmaking that you don’t find in public. Niche brands have to be very precise and uncompromising with the product and experience for their discerning clients. With Parmigiani, we start with a very high reputation; Mr. Michel Parmigiani is a living watchmaking legend because he comes from the restoration business. Restoration is the black belt of all watchmaking because you must have the talent to repair and rebuild timepieces from hundreds of years ago. During the “age of the quartz crisis,” everybody from Patek Philippe to every brand thought that the quartz movement was more precise and valuable. Michel went against the quartz trend and believed that the art of watchmaking must be maintained. He dedicates his life to perpetuating the art of watchmaking for future generations. Today this craft is on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list by UNESCO.
The art of restoration is something extraordinary. When you are restoring a timepiece of two or three hundred years old, you are working on someone else’s creativity. Your main goal is not to disrupt the work of the original creator. Michel gave Parmigiani Fleurier a sense of this beautiful mechanical craft from his restoration expertise. He has repaired over 100 pieces for the Patek Philippe museum, private family collections, and historical foundations.
When you have this master restoration background, you intend to inject all of your restoration knowledge into your brand. The Parmigiani client is an elegant insider. Elegance is a balance in your dressing, manners, in your way of being and living. In our world, it’s about enjoying the beauty of the craft. The brand’s style is quite classic, but my vision is that it needs to become more attractive to today’s crowd. We can have beautiful, exclusively made movements, but we also have the ambition to please the customer in his 30s and 40s. When two Parmigiani enthusiasts encounter, it’s a conversation that starts at a much higher level of competence because it’s a brand known by few, and those who know it know that it’s an exceptionally high craft. It’s for people who are indulging with themselves rather than having social status. When designing an iconic piece, it is vital to keep every element in balance and consider what kind of client you have to serve.
Chan: Sounds like the client who buys a Parmigiani is not his first watch – it’s probably the sixth, the twelfth, and as he’s probably a collector. It is an exquisite piece of art like a Monet. As the CEO, you are responsible for the P&L, so how do you commercialize a Monet?
Terreni: It’s a bit more complicated than that because when you are working on high-end pieces priced at several hundred thousand dollars, those are unique pieces. The P&L is built by the brand as a whole, and the core pieces of the brand should price between twenty and fifty thousand U.S. dollars. While we are only 25 years old, we have the craft and the experience of a very mature brand because of our restoration expertise. I think we can have a fresher look on our watches and that can appeal to the crowd of today who is looking for an alternative of the contemporary style with rich content but very balanced in its ingredients.
Chan: With 1/3 of the luxury goods being consumed by the mainland Chinese customers today, and every luxury brand is chasing this customer, do you have any thoughts on that?
Terreni: I don’t know if it’s luck or a problem, but we are not very strong today with Chinese clients, so there’s potential. I think also the Chinese client is probably in the crowd that has evolved in the fastest way in the industry. When Chinese consumers started to be relevant back in 2005, they would come to Lucerne for the classic gold watch with a silver dial what I call my grandfather’s watch. But today, the Chinese consumers are very different in only ten or twelve years. There’s been a complete shift in what the taste of a young person of 30 years old is today. If you look at the Chinese demographics of the luxury watch business, they evolved tremendously today. One of the hottest trends is to look for brands that are not mainstream. This trend is not only in watchmaking; I think the generation of the 30-year-olds is looking for brands that can be their brands, not their father’s brands. It’s something that is moving very quickly.
I have extreme respect for the profound Chinese culture. I have never done a commercial thing like putting a monkey on a watch dial because it’s the Year of the Monkey.
It’s essential to choose whom you want to talk to and whom you want to serve. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to please everybody as it’s really about falling in love with a few people.
Chan: That’s excellent, so whom do you choose to fall in love with?
Terreni: It isn’t easy to communicate to this kind of client because it’s behind the scenes. I think true wealth is very private. We’re looking at a crowd that is probably a community within the community because it’s a client who can understand true luxury, it’s not ostentatious, it’s deeper in his choices, and it’s somebody who is not a show-off. It’s the person who has a respectful and intellectual style. If a customer is interested in Parmigiani, they are probably interested in other niche brands with a higher level of craft. It’s more of a word-of-mouth activity. Many brands are going for a mono-brand distribution because they see the total selling price with a high margin. I think there is much value in having a multi-brand dealer who knows watchmaking and can mutually endorse your brand. It is imperative to have a quality distribution, a high level of presentation, and the capacity to service these extraordinarily knowledgeable and savvy customers.
Chan: Everyone is using an influencer and getting on Instagram. Do you think that will be part of your strategy, or will you use a different approach?
Terreni: Our clients are probably not looking at an Instagram influencer to decide on their purchase. We use Instagram and other digital marketing tools. It is not only online; it’s also offline that we work with our clients. That’s where the trade becomes extremely important, and then we have to make ourselves understood. Our integrity has to be extremely high, and we have to speak our truth and direction. If you want those clients interested in watchmaking, it’s not what drives a purchase but the pleasure of feeling something that fits on you that it is different from the masses and that you are sure that it’s valued with excellence.
Chan: Tell me about a product that you are working on
Terreni: We are very excited about the acceptance of the Tonda GT collection launched last year, and we are working on new evolution that will continue to build the Tonda collection as the backbone of our brand.
Chan: What are some of the challenges ahead?
Terreni: This is an ambitious 360 project because it touches the product, distribution, communication, teams, company culture, and clients. It’s not a big established brand that travels on the rail, and you’re just correcting it. There’s a lot to do, and execution is critical; the level of perfection in knowing everything you do from communication, distribution, training, and the product; everything has to be flawless. There are many moving parts; I feel like a conductor in an orchestra who has to manage the present and bring in future talent that can collaborate as a team and hopefully intercept our customers’ souls and hearts.
Chan: Where would you like to see this brand in three years?
Terreni: In three years, I would love to see a defined assortment with the recognizability of the Tonda as the backbone of the brand. In terms of aesthetics, it is this rich minimalism that we are looking for where everything is balanced, but nothing is obvious; it’s a sort of tension between a simple effect in the end but crafted in a sartorial way.
Chan: What is your leadership style?
Terreni: The most important thing is to have a direction and idea of what we want to do. When I started 12 years ago at Bulgari as the head of watchmaking, it wasn’t the same brand that you see today. The assortment that you see today didn’t exist. You have to ask the big questions: Why do I exist? Why should people buy? Why should I be doing watches? Putting these questions upfront to the team is quite effective.
When I joined Parmigiani, I asked the design team what the aesthetic codes of the brand are? And they started talking to me about movements. That tells me the culture and mindset of this Swiss watchmaking brand, and I need to build a style around that culture. I want to respect that culture by creating a timepiece that is holistic. The teams, the product, the design, and the industrial side must be transversal. I tend to put everybody together and give an objective that is higher than their own. Our goal is to win but then how you score is how you play together. You have to work on every single team element to converge onto an object higher than your scope. Switzerland has a very organized culture, and coming from Italian culture; I need to mess things up a little bit to make things happen. The pressure is part of the ingredient because the urgency to achieve can be something that you need to instill. You also need to push and convince people beyond their comfort level but not force them to do what they don’t feel. There must be a sort of agreement between what is expected and what is accepted. The last thing is that I am always supportive. My job is to take out pressure but also give pressure. In the end, you have to make sure people deliver their promises. We have been innovatively evolving this company in the last 6-7 months; these are exciting and remarkable times.
Chan: Most people don’t understand that being a CEO is probably the most stressful and the least glamorous job. You have to give stress yet absorb all of the pressure, and you can’t talk to anybody. How do you take care of yourself?
Terreni: When you’re a CEO, you don’t have a safety net because nobody is looking out for you. You feel together with your team, but on the other side, you feel alone. It’s something that can be highly negative in your balance of life, and you can go into a vicious cycle, then it’s difficult to exit. How do you take care of yourself is probably the most critical question that you can ask? You have to build up your energy, and you have to refresh yourself. You have to have your ways to switch off and to be in your world. Some people do meditation, but I ride my motorcycle. When I ride my bike, it’s something that I am very much in the present moment when I concentrate on driving. It’s sensational freedom that I cannot renounce. I’ve been riding since I was very young and I love to travel. Last year, I went to Patagonia on a motorcycle. These are my ways of refreshing myself. My other most significant resource is my family because they give me much strength.
Chan: What kind of motorcycles do you have?
Terreni: I have two BMWs. The R NineT 1200 for daily rides in the Alps and a GS1150 for traveling.
Chan: If you could go back in time and know what you know today, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself?
Terreni: I would say courage is the first and most important value because it allows integrity. Courage will enable you to push yourself further and do things that can make you grow in every aspect. Everything that you do should be true to yourself. But there are consequences because if you want to stand up to integrity, you will have a strong personality. Or if you could make choices that probably are easier to accept and go with the flow. Trust is also a tremendous value in how a person works. If I had to advise a young person, it’s first of all, what kind of person you want to be? If you have true values that you stand for, you probably have a strong personality, and it’s not easy, or if you want to follow the flow and fit in, and that’s a different life.
I’m not interested in fitting in because that’s not interesting. I look for people who have something to say; they are fascinating, challenging, and creative. They are wonderful people if they’re not egoistic. You want to show humanity which is vital to protect, and that’s why I believe that understanding your values is the most crucial question that you can ask yourself.