In person, Jerome Lambert radiates energy. Even though a slight man, the CEO of Richemont’s Montblanc seems to be constantly on the go. Barely in Singapore for two days, he has hosted a VIP dinner the night before our interview, then fielded questions from journalist-after-journalist at the brand’s Marina Bay Sands store, and from here will head to another VIP client dinner before leaving.
But this is the very energy that has helped him take Montblanc to new heights in a short span of time. Since coming on board as their CEO in 2014, the brand has quickly grown and expanded, particularly in the watch field — something that Lambert is very familiar with thanks to stints at both Jaeger-LeCoultre and A. Lange & Sohne.
It’s to celebrate the brand’s 110th anniversary for which Lambert is in Singapore, and naturally, he has a soft spot in his heart for the watches. “I wanted to show how serious and dedicated and engaged Montblanc was when it comes to watches. Our strategy has very much been all along about radical innovation and we have been very energetic and dynamic and invested in showcasing that.”
He also acknowledges that his reputation in the watch industry has helped. “If your profile is inherently connected to watches then there has to be a direct impact. That’s what the media is expecting.” And he takes that very seriously. When not travelling, Lambert gets highly involved in the products, inspecting them from start to finish. When he’s not in the office, he’s in the stores, overseeing just about everything.
“I am the first to be critical of our boutiques. To be like, ‘Guys we can’t have it this way, we need to change this and make it like this, etc.’” he says. “For me this is an opportunity to be in the field and understand things as they are on the ground and not just as they are written in a book.”
At the heart of it all for Lambert (and Montblanc) is a commitment to clients and a level of personalisation that spreads out from their writing instruments to their watches. “Our key approach is to be very client-centric,” he says. “We try to organise all our channels of distribution and communication around our clients. We are present in over 100 countries and it involves visual merchandising and training to showcase our products in the very best ways.”
It was the clients that led the brand to experiment with technology, launching their Montblanc e-Strap last year at SIHH 2015. Clearly, the inclusion of technology in the watch industry is something many brands have flirted with, but Lambert is very clear about Montblanc’s rationale. “It was purely from the fact that we saw this global trend happening on the market and that we’ve been trying to work out how best it can be interpreted by our brand. We find that the e-Strap is a very good way to combine functions and to bring it to the world of watches and having something on your wrist.”
Lambert is pragmatic about incorporating technology into his watches. “This is an interesting product but it is not the answer or essence of our work. But it can be a very nice extension of what we do.” For Lambert, technology is attractive, but more so than that, is consistency, particularly when you look past the products and to the heart of the company – the craftsmen and artisans who do the creating. “We have more than 40 apprentices at Montblanc HQ. For these people entering the industry you can’t be like ‘Oh this year we’ll do something interesting,’ and then say ‘Ah, this year I don’t need you.’ When you take this social responsibility, what’s important is how consistent we can be.”
Maintaining that level of consistency and excellence, is something Lambert feels will be a major issue in the watch industry in time to come, and he uses Singapore to highlight that problem. “It is particularly visible in a small country like Singapore – this articulation between global and local. The maison has to be very powerful when it comes to expressing itself – because there can be a lot of ‘noise’ around you. However, clients are expecting more personalised solutions, and locally, tastes can be quite different.”
Lambert is intrigued and impressed with Singapore’s success, and sees the country as playing a valuable part in the watch industry’s future. “I think Singapore is very safe and has a good infrastructure — the best in the whole region. This naturally creates a highly competitive position for the country, especially where watches are concerned.”
He notes that in most countries, including our own, Montblanc customers are predominantly local. “We have a strong historical angle here,” he adds. “We started in Ngee Ann City in 1992, and opened our boutique in Raffles City in 1993 — in retail activity that’s already two generations. We began with writing instruments, which quickly took on a second dimension with leather, and in the last ten years watches have been getting more attention. All together, it has been quite a powerful combination.”
Montblanc, B2-71, Canal Level, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018972, www.montblanc.com