Beleaguered by cheap imports from Japan and the change in consumer’s taste, the once vaulted Swiss watch industry was in dire strait by the 1980s when a master dealmaker, Nicolas George Hayek, jumped into the scene.. Originally hired to liquidate the assets of 2 timepiece makers, ASUAG and SSIH, Hayek applied selective restructuring instead; with the firm believe that consumer’s would once again appreciate the Old World craftsmanship of timepiece making. Around the same time, a cheaper plastic variant was on the drawing board to counter the imported Casio and Seiko watches. The development process first started in 1982 by Dr. Ernst Thomke, along with timepiece engineers Elmar Mock and Jacques Muller. However, the success of what subsequently known as Swatch, was by Hayek’s phenomenal marketing skill sets (he’s known for wearing multiple Swatch at one time). With vibrant design and patterns, the ability to interchange parts, the watch became an instant success in the go-go 80s. Because of its affordability, fashion trends spurn around the watch. It was not uncommon to see people fashioned 2-4 Swatchs at the same time. Some even transformed theirs to brooches and hair bands. Another Hayek’s marketing ingenuity was the introduction of artist collaboration, the first such partnership between the once insular watch industry and the art world, from that of the late Keith Haring to the most recent one by Cassette Playa.
In addition to Swatch, Hayek’s knack for deal making helped him to become a billionaire many times over and his firm Swatch Group the largest timepiece maker in the world, manufacturing and licensing labels such as Omega, Longines, Tiffany & Co. Blancpain, Tissot, Hamilton, Rado, Calvin Klein, and more…. Of course, with all the success, there were some setbacks as well. When the Internet craze was at its peak, Swatch introduced a “new” world time standard, one the company stated as more suitable to the around-the-clock world we lived in. The project was scrapped unceremoniously. Then there was the Smart car. Envisioned by Hayek to be the “Swatch of automobile”, the original Smart car was to be affordable, with interchangeable body panels (there was a mention of artist series at one time), and hybrid power plant. However, the initial cost to start an auto company proved to be more than estimated. 5 years after its establishment, Hayek sold the remaining ownership to its larger partner, Daimler-Benz.
Nicolas George Hayek passed away today at age 82 while at work in the Swatch Group’s Biel headquarter. The cause was heart failure. The company will be under the watch of another Hayek, his son also by the name Nicolas, who is the current CEO. The splash page on the Swatch Group’s website simply read “Nicolas G. Hayek, 1928 2010, Entrepreneur”