On February 19 in the year 1928, one of the most famous entrepreneurs in the watch industry was born in Beirut, Lebanon. His name was Nicolas George Hayek, the man who resurrected the Swiss watch industry by co-founding the Swatch Group.
Nicolas Hayek was the son of an Greek Orthodox dentist. As a teenager, he moved to Switzerland and then later to France where he attended the University of Lyons and graduated with a degree of mathematics, physics and chemistry. In the 1950s, he worked as an actuarial for Swiss Re.
In 1963, Nicolas Hayek established Hayek Engineering, a business consulting firm. In the succeeding years, he became a sought-after consultant and the number of clients increased to over 300 big and small companies including AEG-Telefunken, Swiss Railways, Nestlé, Siemens and US Steel.
In the early 1980s, the once impregnable Swiss watch industry was reeling under the onslaught of affordable Japanese-made quartz watches. To avoid further decline, the Swiss government asked a group of Swiss Banks to do something. Nicolas Hayek was commissioned to make a comprehensive study on the matter. One of his recommendations was the consolidation of the disparate manufacturers and the emphasis away from technology into customer-oriented marketing.
In 1984, the two main manufacturers agreed to merge and Nicolas Hayek maneuvered to control 51% of the new company that would soon evolved as the Swatch Group. He moved fast to automate and centralize assembly lines, reduced the number of parts, and brought down the number of brands to make management simpler and more efficient. At the same time, he capitalized on the strength of famous brands like Breguet, Tissot, Rado, Longines and Omega to capture bigger share of the high-end market. But the most crucial innovation was the introduction of Swatch which became a famous brand the world over.
Nicolas Hayek died of cardiac arrest in 2010 at the age of 82. He had two children with wife Marianne. At the time of death, his net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine at $3.9 billion. As of October, 2020, The Swatch Group has a market capitalization of $11 billion, down from $21 billion in 2017.