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Luxury & Brands
April 03, 2015

Read More: Walter von Kanel on India and watches

Text by Sitanshi Talati-Parikh

President of Longines, Walter von Kanel in conversation with Verve about India, politics, bureaucracy and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Walter von Kanel is lively, intelligent and with a sharp sense of humour. You can have an easy chat with him which will lead to wide-ranging topics and he will know how to drive facts home. Over his many decades with Longines, the president is sure of himself and the brand and where it is headed — number one in their price segment from it’s current number 4 standing. He shares his views on India below.

  • I’ve brought the brand (Longines) to Number 4 in this industry. When you are over a billion swiss francs, it means a lot of money…it’s too many rupees that I cannot count. We brought this company to a very strong position. 
  • We have now very impressive distribution, according to the group governance where we respect all national laws. Your decision not to allow us to open our own shops for instance!
  • The Indian market is local and abroad the…? (NRIs) Yes, the NRIs! In India they drive you nuts with acronyms. It’s an Indian speciality.
  • With Brazil, India is the highest tax country…we respect it, because unlike Brazil, we don’t have to pay baksheesh
  • Rolex is good at number 1. (Taps a bunch of numbers.) It’s impossible to be number 1. I want to be number 1 in my price segment — in this industry it’s difficult to do everything. The name of the game is the price segment. Many people are coming to this segment now, we welcome them.
  • In this industry you have macro tendency. There is an evolution and no revolution. If you are a genius and have the most brilliant idea, you can’t be a genius alone — this industry is not Apple or Google or Samsung. The cycle is longer. 
  • I’m happy companies like Apple and Samsung are coming into the business. It is additional business for me. They change every few months. They will help us put a watch on the wrist of the younger generation. And one day this generation will be tired of these electronic watches and they will be looking at an analog watch. It is a status symbol. 
  • You (India) are one of the most populated companies in the world. Being the number 1 or 2 populated country in the world, you are number 24 of the 30 countries buying from us. The barriers are so big, that they buy from abroad rather than locally. For instance, we can open a shop anywhere in China, we are not blocked by Titan!
  • The Indian consumer in our price segment knows what they want. I’ve been many times to your country — to the pink building in Delhi! The quota, the licence, the duty… And I learnt one thing that the man with the power is not the minister, it is the guy who works for him, the secretary sitting outside. 
  • Indians have discount in their blood. You always bargain. Don’t you? (No.) Then you must be buying from a shop that doesn’t offer a discount!
  • India is a mature market. It was open to branded consumer goods much before China. Indians travel a lot abroad to cities where they may purchase these goods. But India itself as a market is not 100% open. 
  • In India there is no smuggling, we tell them not to buy from bandits. In luxury shops, if one retailer is selling fakes, he is killed — by the brand and the industry. Your fellow citizens smell the fakes. 
  • Your PM (Narendra Modi) says he is fighting against corruption. Give him a chance! In China they are very strict.
  • It’s nice to have Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (brand ambassador of Longines for 15 years), it’s nice to see her daughter, it’s nice to see her mom…. I was the guy who picked her, when I got a call saying it was time to negotiate with her. 

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