In his suite in a five-star Delhi hotel, Bernard Fornas sits talking about class, strategy and ethics. As longtime president and CEO of Cartier International, he has no immediate plans to expand the retail network of what he calls “the king of jewellery and prince of watches” in India. The 165-year-old luxury brand, owned by Richemont SA, has only one boutique in India, located in the capital’s plush Emporio Mall. “If I open boutiques everywhere, in Mumbai, in all these big cities like Bangalore, then I will not sell,” says he.
He doesn’t want to even think of diversifying the business either: “Stay where you are.” The bigger challenge is in maintaining the Cartier character. “Because when you have this phenomenal DNA, you have to maintain it,” says Fornas who became Cartier’s president in 2002 and pays utmost attention to even the minutest detail within the organisation.
“Every single piece of jewellery is approved by me, every single reference in watchmaking, every single accessory, everything is approved by me,” he says, adding that he works seven days a week, though he is slower at work over the weekend.
He insists that he will keep a close eye on India, “which is why I keep coming to this country.” According to him, India has the same potential as a market for luxury jewellery and watches as China. But in China, Fornas’ company has 37 boutiques. “The difference between India and China is that there are more taxes here. Indian people end up buying Cartier products from Paris or Dubai because they are cheaper. I think that the day taxes are a bit lowered, the business will go up.”
It is that simple, he notes. Fornas is convinced that the market for luxury watches in India is phenomenal. The Cartier chief also admires the sense of luxury Indians possess. “From your mothers to sisters to wives, you all have a great sense of luxury for jewellery and a lot of people with class have a great understanding of watches.” But he expects the prices to be more competitive compared with the rest of the world.
“Too much tax kills the market. Then people are always upset about their purchases…we hope that one day taxes will decline and our business will be much more here.” In China, Cartier plans to add more boutiques — to make it a total of 55 or so — in the next couple of years.
How did he navigate the company during the recent financial slowdown? “We organise in such a way that our plane has five strong engines,” he says. Those engines are Europe, Japan, China, the Americas and the Middle East. This way, if there is a big crisis and the Americas’ engine is weak, you still have other engines, he says, smiling. “When the crisis came, Europe and the Americas were affected but China was booming, the Middle East was holding. You get your five engines running well and then even if two engines drop, you can still get home safe.”
“We did a strong penetration across the world, and we are doing it now,” continues Fornas. “Now we are constantly pushing more in the US and Europe and other places because I want to avoid overdependence on China. What if something happens in China?” he asks. “I am fighting against my own success in China …what we do is optimise the network.”
Fornas meticulously does what he calls the “weeklybased automatic assortment” of all Cartier products across the world. “I told you that in 30 seconds, but it is a headache.” The idea is not to compromise on quality. As regards craftsmen, he says the company believes in rigorous and the best training at its own school in Paris.
A graduate of the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Lyon, France, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, Fornas started his career as an assistant product manager with Proctor & Gamble. He then made a quick transition from fast moving consumer goods to high-end luxury.
Asked about the ethics behind sourcing diamonds or other stones, Fornas makes it clear that every stone that is sold to Cartier has to be certified by global agencies so as to ensure that not even a single one is a conflict stone or a blood diamond.
He says, for instance, despite a pressing need for rubies, Cartier decided not to buy the stone from Myanmar, which is ruled by a military junta. “We have less and less rubies in our collection, but when you are the leader, you have to show the path and lead by example. I want to be 200 percent ethical.”
“I work this way because my goal is to make products for eternity,” says he, glancing at his watch.
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