In the past, I have had the honor of interviewing François-Paul over various topics and through several events (more to be posted). We often speak about watches which is a fair topic to discuss but to me, I’ve always pushed to interview the man for whom and what he is. It’s the more personal side of FP that sparks my interest and unsurprisingly, that side is very difficult to get to. Over the years I’ve tried cracking the code with regards to getting to know the man on a very personal level and this past January, I think I cracked it.
To note, almost all my past interviews with the man were done with a translator as I spoke nothing of the French Language. Thus, the first code to crack was the language barrier. I took intensive French classes for around a total 13 months for this one specific reason. I wanted to be able to get up close and personal with the man himself without a translator between us. It wasn’t easy but I was determined to do so and I did.
This past January, I spent a few days after SIHH in Geneva and the evening before my departure, I was invited to dine with François-Paul. As the night came to an end, I conducted somewhat of a spontaneous (not really) interview and I asked him as much as I could. The following is a summarized account of some of the questions that were asked and their respective responses.
TJG: Montres Journe SA was founded by three partners, is that correct?
FP: Yes. Myself and two others.
TJG: May you please explain this to me; you claim to have never distributed a single dime in dividends…ever. What kind of investor would invest in a company without getting any returns? I find it very hard to understand and many others can’t comprehend it either.
FP: [Speaks with a smile] That is the miracle of F.P. Journe. It was a miracle that I found my two business partners and I believe it was a miracle that they themselves found me. We are a very strong combination. We work together and decide everything together.
TJG: What happens then when you argue?
FP: We never have. There is a very strong respect and faith among ourselves. The decisions are always taken unanimously and we have trust in each other.
TJG: Ok so if you don’t distribute your profits ever then what is the point of the brand? Why build a company the way you do and yet not make millions out of it?
FP: The goal is simple. We want to build the best watch manufacture in the world. We wanted to offer and make the best watches ever. Every profit is put back into the company to make better watches and that is our goal. We all have the same goal.
TJG: So the money isn’t really important?
FP: It’s very important actually but it’s not a personal gain. Do I drive a Ferrari? No. I want to make the best watches in the world and that’s where I need money to do so. It’s funny, when I was young, I always dreamed of being rich. I wanted to have a lot of money so I could make every watch I ever wanted and would never be obliged to sell anything. I would never sell anything. I wanted to have my own museum just to preserve everything and see it.
TJG: So what if I wrote you a cheque now for 100 billion dollars; what would you do?
FP: It’s pointless. When you have money you should go and buy art and collections. Today, there is absolutely nothing worth buying. Everything that was worth buying has already been sold and is already in a museum or a private collection of some sort. Why would I want money? I work the day and relax the night and make watches and that is all. I don’t drive a Ferrari and I don’t even want to buy one.
TJG: Then what’s your personal goal? What does François-Paul Journe work to achieve?
FP: To make the best watches in the world.*smiles*
TJG: Since money is of no concern to you; were you ever approached with offers to sell your brand?*
FP: I used to get them all the time. I always declined.
TJG: And how much did they value you at?
FP: I don’t even know. I would always decline before even hearing their offer. It is always the same response before we even meet “not interested”.
TJG: I apologize for the nature of this question but…are you rich?
FP: Nooooo. [shakes head]
TJG: Yet you’re the president of the company?
FP: Yes but my employees get paid a lot more than I do.
TJG: Would you say you could personally afford a….Grande Sonnerie?
FP: HA! No way! No no no. It’s not even something that I can consider.
TJG: Fair enough. What about a Chronometre Bleu?
FP: *Thinks* Not right away. I mean it would take me a few months and I would have to study the economy but it may be more approachable if I really pushed myself.
TJG: Would you consider yourself someone who is rewriting history?
FP: Not at all. I am a part of history or rather I base my work on history. I’m not doing anything new but I work to continue the work of the masters before me. I’m not rewriting or writing anything; I just continue it. There are others today who are writing history because they are doing something completely new and different than tradition. It’s not a continuation for them but for me…I just continue.
TJG: Do you think then that you are the Breguet of our time?
FP: No, that’s a ridiculous claim. I am nothing like Breguet. Today, everything is so much easier. Can you imagine trying to innovate something 200 years ago? Breguet was a genius and I am nothing compared to him…
TJG: Ok so let’s imagine that Breguet were to rise from the dead, just for a thought. What would you say to him?
FP: [Silence in deep thought] It’s not even what I would say to him. I don’t even think of what I would say. I just think if I would ever get a chance to be asked to sit beside him. That would be the real honor and the bigger question. Yes, that’s the real honor; what happens beyond hasn’t even crossed my mind…
Osama. Look around you. Tell me the name of one watchmaker today that you honestly think Breguet would pull a chair out for and invite over for a chat. *Pulls out the chair next to him*
Tell me just one who has earned that honor in all honesty.
TJG: I can’t honestly think of any…
FP: There isn’t a single one.
TJG: Ok, so do you think that you would get that honor?
FP: I can’t say yes. I don’t know. I can only hope that I will…just hope and dream.
TJG: While today we speak very highly of Breguet and the great watchmakers of the past. What do you hope people will say about you in 50 years?
FP: It doesn’t really matter what people say. I will have done my work and that’s it. What people say is up to them…
*As of September 14th 2018, Montres Journe announced a 20% acquisition of the brand by Chanel. You can read Journe’s statement regarding the acquisition here; emphasizing yet again that the company still adheres to his vision and values. Whereas the circle of partners increased from three to four, they still share a unified vision for the future of the company.