“You become the best ambassador for your brand…”

How do you break into a business where many of your competitors have been doing it for hundreds of years? Be different, says RJ-Romain Jerome CEO Manuel Emch. 

For a boutique watch brand less than 10 years old, RJ-Romain Jerome has ambitious plans. In fact, you could say it’s aiming for the stars in a quite literal sense, as some of its signature timepieces contain moon dust or fragments of Apollo 11. It’s part of its philosophy to stand out in a 400-year-old industry, according to CEO Manuel Emch. But what makes him tick?

Check the time difference “When I have lots of international appointments, I often buy a round-the world ticket and jump from country to country. It’s an efficient way of doing things, but crossing the international date line can play with your mind. I admit I’ve chased people on their mobiles before noticing that, for them, it’s 7am on a Saturday.”

Pace yourself “When I was first made CEO of a watch company 14 years ago, I made a trip to the Middle East to see potential customers. I visited every country in the region in a week and was pleased to have met everyone on what was a punishing schedule. Afterwards, I got feedback from many of these clients that I didn’t hang around for long, wasn’t very patient and was in too much of a rush.”

Follow your instincts “We conceived of a Space Invaders watch collection, which I presented at Baselworld trade show. There was no demand. People didn’t understand it or its potential. But, I decided to go for it and it became one of our most successful lines. Sometimes you have to think ahead of the game.”

Different cultures “Some customers want you to sit with them and drink tea before you talk business, others prefer to build relationships over a long period of time. I remember pushing my team for better results in Japan, but when I went there, I was struck by how much focus there is on harmony and letting things develop over the long term. You have to adapt to the local philosophy to survive.”

People want to identify with you “We often sell to independent, family-owned businesses, and they are almost always as interested in us personally and what we’re about as they are in the watches. They need to have confidence in you, not just confidence in the product. You become the best ambassador for your brand.”

Don’t be scared to cut your losses “We’ve launched a collection of products in the past and withdrawn them. They were women’s watches, we’d invested in the pre-publicity and the expectation was already out there in the marketplace. But then two other brands launched something similar and we simply decided to save the fight for another day.”

Trust is good, but control is better “Mistakes are part of management. Sometimes we worked with the wrong partners in the past, who promised us things they never delivered. We trusted them and were let down. Now we always carry out background checks.”

Move quickly “When the Icelandic volcano erupted, we decided to pay tribute to a contemporary legend in the making. We designed a ‘virtual’ watch without worrying about the technical considerations and launched it while the airspace was still closed. Demand was huge and the finished product went on to become part of our main collection. I wasn’t really expecting to sell one, but we’ve sold over 300 so far, at £15,000 each.”

Be different “Press launches for Swiss watch manufacturers tend to be held in glamorous hotels. We had one of ours in a tattoo parlour in London’s East End. We lit a few candles, and served some food and drinks. Simple. Some people didn’t leave until 8am and a lot of people I meet still talk about it as the best event they’ve been to.”

You will make mistakes “One of my most embarrassing moments was when I first took over at RJ and we won an award. I was very proud and made a speech, but I mentioned the name of the company I’d just left, rather than RJ-Romain Jerome. People were very understanding and I now see it as a positive situation – at the end of the day, we’re all only human.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight