How to build a successful business with Oris’s Ulrich W. Herzog

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The chairman of one of Switzerland’s last remaining independent luxury watch brands shares his advice 

As anyone who knows watches will know, the early 1980s was rough for the watch industry. It was then that the teeth of the Quartz Crisis were really biting – two thirds of the workforce had been laid off and around a thousand companies had gone under as traditional watchmaking gave way to cheaper, more accurate quartz watches made in the Far East.  And yet it was then that Ulrich W. Herzog decided to buy out the traditional watch company Oris, believing it had a bright and glorious future.

Herzog’s background was in the oil industry. He moved to Oris in the late 1970s, initially as its head of marketing. In 1982, with the business in crisis, he and then General Manager Dr Rolf Portmann bought it out, making him the chief executive. A few years later, they made the call to stop making quartz watches and instead make nothing but mechanicals.

Ulrich W. Herzog

Oris Chairman, Ulrich W. Herzog

More than 35 years later, Oris is still independent, and now a globally recognised luxury watch brand. Its USP is beautifully designed and produced Swiss Made mechanical watches at an accessible price.

The Jackal sat down with the now Oris Chairman and asked for his advice on how to build a brand and a business.

Ulrich W. Herzog

The Oris Big Crown ProPilot Calibre 114 has an Oris-patented in-house movement that gives it a 24-hour second time zone and a 10-day power reserve

1. People are your most valued asset

‘People are number one. Have people you can work with, that you can trust and that you can build on, because without people it doesn’t work. And you need a good boss! A good boss must be an influential leader with the ability to inspire, and that leads by example.’

2. Be unique, and always innovate

‘You have to have a unique product and you have to have unique elements in your product. To maintain popularity, as well a competitive price, products must be elegantly crafted with a detailed eye and constant precision. Without this, products will be classified as standard. And always, always innovate. Do something new, do something different.’

Ulrich W. Herzog

Ulrich W. Herzog (left) and Dr Rolf Portmann bought out Oris in 1982 and transformed its fortunes

3. Figure out what you stand for and who your customer it

‘Our founders came up with the idea of producing quality watches at an accessible price, using industrial methods – and that’s what we wanted to continue when we took over and still do today. Our way is to bring something different, something – if possible – patented that others cannot just copy. This is what our customers want. Authentic products that make sense. To do all that, you need economical production methods, so we’ve invested in effective, industrial production methods and facilities.’

4. You have to have a strong voice

‘You need a good voice because you have to be able to tell the people what you’re doing. If you can’t tell them, if you don’t have the money to bring it out, they won’t know about you. Advertising is now more accessible than when I started in this business – that’s a great thing and gives you lots of opportunities to create a strong brand footprint.’

5. Build for the future – be sustainable

‘Sustainability is not just looking for clean air or oceans. Sustainability goes throughout an enterprise, throughout a company – be consistent and sustainable so your people, your customers and the media can trust in what you do. If they see this is the way to go, they will have the vision, too. So that means don’t waste money on building shops like palaces that don’t make sense. Of course, sustainability also means controlling pollution, reducing plastic use and so on. And this we do too through our limited edition watches that support organisations such as the Coral Restoration Foundation, and through the straps and packaging made of sustainable materials we’re introducing.’