They say the secret to success: All you need is love. This is my motto!
Great interview with Jean-Claude Biver, head of the watch division at LVMH, in the NY TIMES.
Q. Do you remember the first time you became a manager?
A. Well, being a manager, that’s not really important. Nowadays everybody is managing something: My secretary manages, my son manages a football team. More important, I think, is when you become an entrepreneur because when you put in your own money to start something, that’s when you start worrying about how you’re going to pay other people’s salaries. I’ve never met a manager who said to me, “I couldn’t sleep on the 29th of January because I didn’t know how to pay the salaries.” When you are an entrepreneur, things are different.
Q. So when was that for you?
A. It was in 1981, when I bought the watch brand Blancpain with my friend Jacques Piguet, for 24,000 Swiss francs [about $12,400 at the time]. I remember the first day we were sitting, the two of us, in a room, saying, “Now that we have bought this old brand, without assets, no contracts, no collection, no people, no factory, how are we going to proceed in order to give birth again to this brand which had gone out of business 20 years before?”
Q. How difficult was it to make the jump?
A. The decision was easy to make because I got a lot of trust and help. And if you get both, what else can you ask for?
Q. What type of leader are you?
A. I’m a consensus one. I’m driven by respect. Of course, in every leader’s there is a moment when he’s alone and he must decide. If he does it all the time, that’s called being a dictator. But if he’s doing it from time to time, he’s just a leader who sometimes brings input. People who have worked with me have learned to trust this type of fast decision-making.
Q. Many of your executives have gone on to become leaders of companies. How do you groom your executives for senior management?
A. I still remember when I first heard the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love.” This song has become a bit of my religion. Beyond its message of love, it also says, “There is nothing you can do that can’t be done.” I think this gives you an incredible horizon of positive thinking, and that’s what I tell my managers when they think they face an obstacle.
It’s also important for me to treat people according to my “religion.” I will share all my experience and success, but also my misfortune, errors, and doubts. That sharing, you don’t need to give back, but if you do, you will become even richer, because you become richer by sharing than by receiving. Some people may think this is a sign of weakness, but so what? You are a human being and you have the right to make errors.
Secondly, I forgive every mistake you make professionally, provided you don’t make it twice. Make a mistake, don’t be shy, and make them all in a row, as many as you can — many mistakes will make you wiser and bring you closer to perfection and success, which is where I want you to go.
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Q. What if it’s a big mistake?
A. That’s why I tell people, “Who is the C.E.O.? I, who will endorse the mistake. Me. And who will endorse the success? You.”
I see myself as a father, here to endorse the mistakes of my team and never to take credit for their success. If you speak like this to a young junior and you actually do it, he will start after a few months to become more relaxed, more secure and confident. He will reach an internal harmony and become more active because he’s no longer afraid of making mistakes.
Q. Have you made a lot of mistakes?
A. Yes, of course. But I was privileged because I always had good people with me and I asked for help and advice, which probably protected me from big mistakes. The more you ask, the fewer mistakes you might make. I think it’s important to have doubts. I tell my people, “If you don’t wake up before the alarm, you have a problem because your professional doubts should wake you up.” If you have doubts, start sharing and others will soon start sharing theirs with you. And as everybody shares, you’re getting a team working together.
Q. So what do you look for in your senior managers?
Q. How do you determine that?
A. I’m lucky. I’m usually wrong in 20, 30 percent of the cases when I judge others, and that’s a lot. But my best friend, who is a doctor, is wrong 70 percent of the time. The few people he’s hired, he’s almost always been wrong, so now he asks me to see them before. [Laughs.] So I think I have good instincts, and I believe in my instincts, and that’s been very important throughout my career. And I’ve fought for my instincts. I’ve learned to trust myself; I make business decisions with four instruments: One is my head, one is my heart, the third is my gut feeling, and the fourth is my enthusiasm on the spot. I’m capable of deciding very quickly if I feel it’s right. Let’s just do it.
Q. So what would you tell a young entrepreneur today?
A. “All you need is love.” If you have a passion for your job, you can achieve anything, and there is “nothing you can do, that can’t be done.”‘ That’s what I would say, and I would add, “Please don’t push away your doubt. Start to love your doubts and start to believe in your gut feelings.”
And last but not least, “Never hire someone who is inferior to you. Only hire people who are better than you.”