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A conversation in February 2012 by Jessica
Michael (Mike) Margolis is a watch collector. Mike’s passion for watches began sometime in high school when his father gave him an Omega Seamaster. Mike vividly recalls winding it, setting it, putting it to his ear and falling in love with the little machine on his wrist.
In his youth, Mike dreamed of a career in the CIA. He earned degrees in Latin-American Studies and Foreign Language at the University of Connecticut, learning to speak Spanish, Portuguese and German. Upon graduation, he applied for a foreign language position with the CIA and had three interviews in Langley, Virginia. After his fifth week of testing, he received the disapponting news that the CIA declined to extend a job offer.
Mike earned a fellowship to study in Lisbon, then travelled to Germany to teach English. After returning to Connecticut to marry his school sweetheart, Mike dabbled in his father’s blueprinting business. Fascinated by the optical instruments used for map surveying, Mike moved on to the emerging hi-tech field of global positioning systems (GPS). Mike worked in the GPS industry for ten years until Jean-Claude Biver hired him to work for Hublot.
In his first interview as President of Tradema of America, Inc., the North American distributor of Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard, Mike Margolis provides TimeZone with some personal and professional insight into his meteoric rise from watch collector to brand President.
TimeZone (TZ): When did you start collecting?
Mike Margolis (MM): In 1996, I discovered Watchnet and realized I wasn’t the only person who liked watches. Someone on Watchnet mentioned TimeZone and I found this website. This was the very early days when Richard Paige, William Massena, and Kohei-san were regulars. I started as a vintage watch collector mainly because I couldn’t afford new pieces.
TZ: When did you meet Jean-Claude Biver?
MM: After the Blancpain Forum moderator Mark Kolitz got sick with cancer, Richard Paige asked me to replace him. At the time, TimeZone only had two brand forums, the Blancpain Forum and the IWC Forum.
After I became the Blancpain Forum moderator, I started an online-correspondence with Jean-Claude, who was CEO of Blancpain. In late 1996, Jean-Claude wanted me to help arrange a collectors dinner in New York. That’s the first time I met Jean-Claude and the first time I met Michael Sandler and Ray Purkis. After the dinner, Jean-Claude told me it was the first time he met his customers. He was so used to dealing with suppliers, distributors and everyone in the industry, he never actually sat down to meet the customer who ultimately buys his watch.
TZ: Sounds like this was one of the first collectors dinners?
MM: I’m sure it wasn’t the first collectors dinner. But it certainly was one of the first. Until then, the brands had been very standoffish with their customers.
TZ: How did you get involved with Hublot?
MM: Over the years, I continued developing a friendship with Jean-Claude and we would meet once a year at Basel. In 2004, Jean-Claude asked me to meet him in New York for breakfast. He had great news, he had left the Swatch Group and gone to work for Hublot. I couldn’t believe it. I told him, “Jean-Claude, Hublot is dead!” Then, over the next several minutes, Jean-Claude shared his vision and plans to revive the brand. He drew a picture of FUSION on a napkin. I wish I’d kept that napkin. [Laughs]
I told him, “I’d buy that watch.” He said, “Yes, OK, but that’s not why I wanted to see you. We want to start a sponsored forum on TimeZone”. After that breakfast, I approached Michael Sandler and William Massena to convince them to try a sponsored forum where Jean-Claude would actively engage with forumners online.
TZ: Was this the first industry sponsored Internet forum?
MM: Definitely the first of its kind. At that time, it was unheard of for a Swiss industry person to come on any forum and participate, let alone the CEO of a Swiss company.
TZ: I recall when the forum launched.
MM: Yes, in April 2005 the Hublot Forum launched simultaneously with the Big Bang launch in Basel. Two years later, at a Pre-Basel collectors event, Jean-Claude offered me a job as Communications Director. Then in January 2008, I was promoted to Sales Director for Hublot of America. Ever since 2005, we saw the company go through tremendous growth.
TZ: What an incredible journey.
MM: It’s been an exhilarating ride. Each day, I can’t wait to wake up and start my day.
Girard-Perregaux in-house Calibre GP03300
MM: Absolutely! Any brand who ignores the power ofthe Internet is doing their company a disservice.
TZ: As an executive, do you consider an online watch forum like TimeZone relevant?
MM: It’s not only relevant, it is important. People are much more connected now.
TZ: As someone who’s managed national sales and distribution, do you think the typical consumer is Internet savvy?
MM: Let me put it this way, consumers are far more educated today than ever.
TZ: Does Switzerland understand the educated consumer?
MM: Sure. We can see that many Swiss brands are nowTimeZone sponsors. And in a bigger sense, we see pricing parity. Switzerland sets the worldwide prices of watches. Because people are so connected through the Internet, the pricing in Geneva needs to be the same as New York and Buenos Aires. Otherwise, someone in Geneva will lose a sale to someone in New York or Buenos Aires over the [nominal] cost of a wire transfer and FedEx bill.
TZ: Do watch retailers understand the educated consumer?
MM: At the retail level, no. I don’t think many watch retailers understand the educated consumer. They understand some elements of the Internet, but not all.
TZ: How can a retailer identify an educated consumer?
MM: As soon as a customer opens his/her mouth, a retailer should know if the customer is an educated consumer or not. It becomes very obvious whether or not the customer has studied technical details and different model variations. Some educated consumers actually enjoy playing “Stump the Retailer” by asking very pointed technical questions about the movement or manufacturing.
TZ: As President of Tradema, what are your short- and long-term plans?
MM: Well, the first few months I imagine will require a lot of studying about the organization. Learning about what’s right, what’s wrong. Then, I have some big plans for connecting with Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard customers. So many brands don’t connect with their customers. I have every intention of connecting withour customers. This is very important to me and everyone at Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard.
TZ: Over the years, I’ve watched you implement ideas and those ideas have proven to be very successful on more than one occasion. I think I echo many at TimeZone who wish you continued success.
MM: Thank you. But don’t make me sound arrogant! [Laughs] I’m just a regular guy who loves watches and I love what I do for a living. I still can’t believe I get paid for playing with watches every day. But thank you.
TZ: Thank you, Mike. This was a pleasure and I appreciate how much insight you’ve shared with everyone at TimeZone.
Girard-Perregaux 1966 Small Seconds
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