The pro golfer who became Audemars Piguet’s CEO

Before working in watches, Frenchman Francois-Henry Bennahmias was a pro golfer and uses lessons he learnt in sport to improve his business.

Robert Chilton May 11, 2017

Do you feel a sense of responsibility to the brand?
Yes, a big one. When I hand the management of the company onto the next guy I want to make sure the brand is in better shape. I have a vision that goes far beyond my management time. You are just a traveller, but hopefully you can bring people together and be the best at what you do. 

How do you balance innovation and history in AP watches?
It’s not a struggle, for us it’s pretty easy. When we talk about complications or chiming nobody can challenge the fact that on day one we made a minute repeater. I think it’s obvious we are going to keep being good at what we do.

How do you keep things fresh at the company?
Every day we go back to the bench and ask, what can we do better? What can we do to adapt the brand to the new world? We have to challenge ourselves. No matter how successful we get, we must keep the momentum going. 

Is complacency a danger?
Sure. Coming from the sports world, the most difficult thing is not to reach number one, but remaining number one. You are pretty alone in your quest. When you reach number one everybody wants you dead.

Do you use your sports background in business?
I use sports analogies in business a lot. I read sports books and talk to sports people too. Lee Westwood, for example, went from 400 in the world to number one – you want to listen to that guy about his life. I love all their stories. The common denominator of all of them is this: you never settle. 

How can AP connect to a younger market?
You can’t talk about the brand to a 20-year-old the same way you would talk to a 50-year-old. Kids these days are learning faster and are exposed to information more than ever before. My daughter is 21. She does her homework, listens to music, talks to her friends, watches TV and posts on Facebook all at the same time! If I had done that I would have killed myself.

Do you think young people are attracted to AP?
Absolutely. I was in Singapore in September and 19-year-olds wanted to take a photo with me, because they think Audemars Piguet is cool. Is it the fact that it takes nine months to make a grand complication? No. Is it that there are 648 parts in the watch? No. But somehow we touch their emotions. Maybe they’ve seen cool people wear the brand. Even though we are 141 years old, the brand is young in their minds.

Do you have young people in mind when designing watches today?
You can never tailor your collections to a theoretical crowd who will buy it.

So, no plans for an AP smart watch then?
No, AP is going to remain stupid [laughs]. Smart watches are mass consumption, fast food, it’s McDonald’s. Is McDonald’s bad? No. You can go to McDonald’s or a three star Michelin restaurant. Can you enjoy both? Absolutely. 

Can young people enjoy luxury?
Of course. You don’t have to be 45 to enjoy luxury. Last year my daughter came to the Audemars Piguet factory. I wanted to give her a watch for her birthday. I told her, ‘Take a look around, talk to the people and if you like what you see I will give you a watch. If you don’t I’ll get you something else.’ After two hours she came back and said to me, ‘Dad, for the first time in my life I see something that will last. Young people throw everything away. When I saw the people work it was like travelling in time.’ So I think if a 20-year-old tells me that, the brand is doing ok.