EARLIER this year, Bob Eckert, the big fish at Mattel Inc was asked by an American magazine to name his favourite gadget. It turned out to be the $45 Timex Ironman Triathlon 30-Lap Watch. Why? “It tells time in two different zones, keeps track of my running times and also serves as my alarm clock,” said Eckert.
A ringing endorsement for the brand owned by the Timex Group for sure, but for the 50-something Norwegian, Anette S Olsen, owner of Fred Olsen & Co, a familyowned multi-billion dollar conglomerate based out of Norway, which owns Timex Group, amongst many other things, there are challenging times ahead for the company as it scrambles to remake itself in an environment dominated by cellphones. “You really don’t need to have a watch these days to tell time, which is why we are looking at the more premium, fashion and luxury end of the segment.” This doesn’t mean the watchmaker is giving up on its mass marketer status. Having sold well over a billion watches, it just means looking for newer and more lucrative markets. Read fashion and luxury.
Industry sources, already buzzing with Timex’ aggressive plans for India in the luxe lifestyle space, suggest a fresh infusion of $10 million, and more if it goes for acquisitions of jewellery brands or manufacturers. Though Olsen is loathe to commit to numbers, she does admit that “India could be a good source for jewellery. Your manufacturing and trade here is quite organised.” Here to review the Rs 110 crore Timex Group India Ltd’s performance, and chalk up additions for the future, Olsen hints at bringing in the recently-acquired luxury watchmaker Vincent Bérard SA, in stand-alones. “As the market matures in India, so will our operations,” she says.
Branching out from its original “takes a licking” designs, Timex is strapping on new looks to trawl new markets. It has long gone from being a simple low-cost watchmaker to include high-tech tickers capable of paging or downloading computer data. Its sports watches have gone upscale and gadgety with the Expedition and Ironman lines. And today, it also makes watches for Guess, Versace, Nautica, and will debut the new Ferragamo and Valentino lines in Basel next year.
In many parts of the world, Olsen allows her flamboyant CEO Joe Santana to champion the brand’s cause. Today, on her second visit to India, as the chairperson of the board of the privately-held Timex Group, part of the Norway-based, family-owned Fred Olsen & Co, she is sussing out ground realities for herself. And doing most of the talking. “Timex has three business units -– watches, luxury brands, and jewellery. We are now in the process of setting up similar verticals in India as well. I am sorry, I can’t give out the investments figures as of now; we haven’t finalised it. But, yes, we are likely to increase our investments in India.” Olsen is the fifth generation of the family, which started the business in 1848. She inherited the mantle in 1993 from her father Fredirik, Fred for short, who, incidentally, served as one of the models for the Charles M Burns character in the hit TV series, The Simpsons