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The CEO Who Turned Audemars Piguet Into a Billion-Dollar Brand Is Stepping Down

François-Henry Bennahmias will leave the role next year.

François-Henry Bennahmias; Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Selfwinding Chronograph Jon Furniss/Invision/AP; Audemars Piguet

It’s confirmed. After longstanding rumours that Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias would leave the Swiss watchmaker, the brand announced today that he’ll quit the post in 2023.

Bennahmias and Jasmine Audemars, chair of the company’s board of directors, confirmed his departure to the Swiss watch publication Le Temps.

By the time he steps down, Bennahmias will have been leading the company – with much success (just try getting a Royal Oak at retail) – for a decade. He became the interim CEO in 2012 and the position became permanent in 2013. He began his career at AP in 1994 and became the managing director of North America in 1999. In total, he has spent 25 years at Audemars Piguet.

Astrid Wendtlandt of MissTweed.com first reported the news of his potential departure in January of this year, but sources have told Robb Report the search for his replacement is well underway. (The company told Le Temps that it has been working with a head hunting firm for his replacement for over a year.) As for the impetus for the change,  conflicts between board members – those that prefer a more traditional approach to the industry and those that favor a more forward-thinking track – may have something to do with the shakeup.

John Mayer just wore Audemars Piguet 41 mm Royal Oak Selfwinding Flying tourbillon in Titanium

John Mayer in an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding Tourbillon 

Bennahmias is known for his flamboyant approach to the business, often hobnobbing with celebrity brand ambassadors from LeBron James to Kevin Hart and Serena Williams and wearing sneakers, hoodies and sunglasses during large-scale press presentations. And it seems to have worked. Audemars Piguet is hotter than ever with Royal Oak models flying off shelves at retail, secondary-market models commanding multiple times over their retail price and countless celebrities (both paid and unpaid) wearing the references.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Bennahmias. The debut of the Code 11.59 collection, a series of watches meant to offset the frenzy for the Royal Oak which was dangerously becoming the company’s only sought-after reference, didn’t receive as warm a reception as the company had hoped although it continues to try and build on its production and marketing.

Nevertheless, Bennahmias’ impact can’t be underestimated. The company reached over $1.6 billion in revenue last year and is the fourth-largest brand in sales (surpassing Patek Philippe) in Switzerland, which is no small feat. In a press presentation in January, Bennahmias noted that the company was also increasing its production this year from 45,000 to 50,000 watches. As a result, all eyes will be on Bennahmias to see where he lands next.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak "Jumbo" Extra-Thin Ref. 16202

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin Ref. 16202 50th Anniversary Models 

His parting gift? He promised in January that the company would set aside a “big chunk” of Royal Oaks – the model is celebrating its 50th anniversary – his year for new clients. Always the master of marketing to desire, however, he added that consideration as a new AP RO owner would require prospective clients to “create and develop a relationship with us,” which, of course, suggests he’s aiming to get more fresh faces in the boutiques whether they leave with a Royal Oak or not. “When you don’t know anyone you have to get known by our people and, eventually things happen,” he added.

How long “eventually” means, is anyone’s guess, but it’s more… or a lot more than a few months. For Bennahmias, however, we imagine it won’t take long for “things to happen.”