Interview with Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Sohne.
Whilst attending SalonQP 2017, Angus Davies was granted an interview with Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Sohne.
I have to start with a confession. I have a profound liking for A. Lange & Söhne timepieces. Lange is based in Glashütte, a town located in the foothills of Germany’s Ore Mountains. It is in this verdant idyll that watches are distilled to perfection.
Recently, I was invited to interview Mr Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne. As an ardent admirer of the German watch company, I eagerly accepted the offer to meet Mr Schmid and learn more about the company he deftly manages.
Interview with Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Sohne (WS) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: Lange is linked to the Concorso d’Eleganza. Can you explain the fit between classic cars and Lange?
WS: There isn’t a general fit between classic cars and Lange, however, there is a fit between certain events such as the Concorso d’Eleganza and what we do. If you look at the event as a whole, it showcases cars which are the product of craftsmanship. None of the exhibiting cars are ‘mass produced’, they are the result of craftsmen working on them; they are art on wheels. Furthermore, all of these cars, when new, were ahead of their time. If you look at their performance they still compare favourably with the modern cars of today. Lastly, they all have history and heritage so it is not just a car but a story. If you look at what we make and these cars there are many shared values and common ground.
AD: Glashütte is a relatively small place. You have watchmakers choosing to come to Lange from all over the world. What do you think the attraction is?
WS: There are very few places around the world where to work there means you only practise craftsmanship. Most brands have an industrialised part and then a ‘tailored’ (hand crafted) section. We only have a ‘tailored’ section. There is no industrialisation. I think that has a certain attraction for a watchmaker. It gives us a competitive advantage and is why we don’t have a problem attracting talent.
AD: Lange has made just about every complication there is. Are there any complications which you have not made which you would like to?
WS: There are many combinations of complications we have not tried so far. There is so much unchartered territory for us. We will not run out of ideas.
Richard Lange Jumping Seconds
AD: The watchmaking industry has faced many challenges in recent years, yet Lange continues to flourish. What is your secret?
WS: There is no secret, we also have our ups and downs like everyone else, although I am very keen on always undersupplying markets. A few years ago, we saw that the market was becoming a little softer and so we adjusted our capacity. Fundamentally, there are seven billion people on the planet, there are increasingly wealthy people and there are collectors, so I am not worried. There will be valleys and there will be peaks and you have to adjust your business model to cope with them. The worst thing a watch brand can do is oversupply the market.
AD: Earlier this year Walter Lange passed away. What do you consider to be his biggest single legacy?
WS: His biggest single legacy is that, over time, he made the company run independently of him. There was no feeling of oh no, he has gone, nobody knows what to do. We are going to miss him, he was a good spirit in our company.
AD: I visited your manufactory in 2012 and you discussed your plans for expansion. A few weeks ago, I returned to the manufactory and noted the changes. What surprised me was that it was not about increased capacity, but rather better working conditions. I thought this was quite refreshing. Returning to my earlier question, do you think this has had an influence on attracting new personnel?
WS: If you work in an environment which is quiet, controlled and suitable for the job you have to do, then this will be a factor people appreciate and respect. This was the reason we built the new manufactory, the old parts were beautiful to look at, but they were not necessarily ideal for what we do.
AD: In recent years, we have seen Richemont companies sell online. Do you envisage taking this approach at Lange?
WS: I think we have the wrong take on that. It is not brands who should say we are going online, it is customers who say my purchasing behaviour has changed or have never had traditional purchasing behaviour. While you or I may choose to visit a shop to buy a watch, the new generation choose to buy online and they exhibit a very different purchasing behaviour. So, if the market is there (online), then we ought to go there too.
Wilhelm Schmid is a very modest gentleman who clearly chooses his words carefully. When he answered my questions, his responses had notable gravitas and clearly showed immense professional insight.
With Mr Schmid at the helm, I have little doubt that Lange will continue to thrive. Indeed, the formula seems clear: high quality timepieces, embracing timeless and distinctive aesthetics, together with a meaningful dose of craftsmanship.
Ideal working conditions attract some of the finest watchmaking talent in the world. These talented watchmakers make a limited number of timepieces, not quite meeting sales demand, hence strengthening residual values.
I left my meeting with Mr Schmid yearning for yet one more Lange timepiece. The future for this company and its desirable watches seems to burn ever brighter.