Passing the Torch

Third-generation CEO Elie Bernheim continues Raymond Weil’s tradition of excellence.

BY JILLIAN LAROCHELLE

Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be involved in the family business?
My father always reminds me that I was 10 years old when I came to him after a long trip, and I asked, “Okay, what’s going on with our Swedish distributor? I remember you told me that you had some financial issues…” He was thinking “Oh my, my son is too young for that kind of thing,” but I always knew that one day I would join the company. I took my first position when I was 25, as a salesman in the German market. We had a car and we took our sales rack from store to store for weeks at a time.

When did you receive your first watch?
It was a gift from my father. I was probably seven years old and at the time this watch was a big hit. I recently wore the first watch my grandfather bought for me in 1992. It’s a Parsifal which has been in the collection for more than 20 years. We have a family museum and I probably have between one and three pieces of each reference in house. It’s nice to get some inspiration from what my grandfather created.

What is it like to follow in his footsteps, and now to work alongside your father and brother?
My brother Pierre is in charge of our second company, 88 Rue du Rhone, which we launched two years ago. His office is right near mine and we see each other all the time, but it was important for each of us to have our own responsibilities.

My father has not officially retired. He still comes into the office for several hours a day, but he’s a happy man now. He’s enjoying being a grandfather and spending time with my children. At the same he still oversees our Asian markets and is a fantastic advisor when I need his support. It is a privilege to work with him.

Bernheim’s current favorite is Raymond Weil’s Toccata timepiece.

As the youngest CEO of a Geneva-based watch brand, how do you think your fresh perspective can be an advantage?
Being the youngest is great, but being surrounded by a strong team is more important. There will always be people who say “You’re too young.” But I have big ambition and a vision for the brand, and I’m sure that our customers can feel that passion. Hopefully it will get them excited too. Being young is also a good thing when it comes to the hectic travel schedule this job requires. It’s important for me to meet all our retail and supply partners to show them how much we appreciate them and how much I need their support. Showing that we are behind them and we are doing everything we can to support them is the most important part of my job today.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
There is a French proverb that says the first generation builds the company, the second expands the company and the third (most of the time) destroys what the first two generations have built. I’m just hoping everyday that I will not be an example of this, that my team and I will bring Raymond Weil to a higher level. If I put this pressure on myself it is only because I see a huge potential for our brand to grow around the world, particularly in the States. This is my plan for the future.

My children are three and one so it’s too early to tell if they will develop an interest, but I definitely hope to keep Raymond Weil as a family business. It’s tradition. It’s a privilege for a father to work with his children, and if I could do that I would be so happy.

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