In what is regarded as a surprise management change, Rolex, the world's largest luxury watch brand, has appointed Gian Riccardo Marini as its new chief executive, replacing Bruno Meier who held the job for only two years.
Marini, a youthful looking 64 who has been with Rolex for forty years, was previously responsible for Rolex Italy, the privately-held company announced.
"The board has decided to update corporate structures in order to continue the dynamic development of the brand, prepare for the future and cope with a pickup in markets, especially emerging markets."
Rolex spokesperson Virginie Chevailler
Reading between the lines Rolex has decided that as China continues to become every major watch brand’s top priority they want someone with perhaps a little more flair and charisma to lead the way.
Meier was appointed CEO of Rolex in 2008, succeeding Patrick Heiniger, who held the position for 16 years. Chevailler did not give any details as to why Meier was leaving the company.
Vontobel analyst Rene Weber said he was surprised by the move. "The reasons are unclear and the new CEO is not known to us," he said, adding he estimated Rolex sales amounted to 4.4 billion Swiss francs (US$5.1 billion) in 2010.
Demand for Swiss watches rebounded strongly from a slump during the economic crisis, thanks to a growing appetite for luxurious timepieces in emerging markets, particularly Hong Kong and China.
The appointment of Daniel Neidhart to head up Rolex's 28 foreign subsidiaries has attracted particular attention for 3 reasons:
1) He is much younger than the new CEO: 49 years against 64 years for Marini.
2) He will lead 3000 people, or fully one third of the total employees.
3) He will oversee his new role not from Switzerland but from Hong Kong
Neidhart has been based there for twenty years. Hong Kong has become the central commercial port for China, currently the world's second largest market for the luxury watch industry.
Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf left the brand to a foundation named after him that still controls Rolex and never discloses any financial details and is also extremely selective about which publications are allowed to carry its press releases and product launches.