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Experiences

Building a bridge between East and West

Inside IWC

Text — Medard Meier Photos — Maurice Haas Date — 24 May, 2011

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In China the shortest way between two points is often not a straight line

—Dennis Lee

When someone mentions China, you automatically think of the country’s sheer size and its virtually unlimited opportunities for those in search of success. Both are truisms, but it is not quite that simple. The true road to success is a stony one and demands the total expertise and commitment that someone intimately familiar with Chinese culture can have. “In China the shortest way between two points is often not a straight line,” says Dennis Lee, who is currently establishing the market for IWC in this enormous region.

Born in Taiwan, he emigrated to the US with his parents, was educated there and returned to Asia. Lee is in a position to compare and knows what it takes to be successful. His job is to build a bridge between East and West, and he started by establishing a market for watches from Schaffhausen in Taiwan. Now it is China’s turn, starting from Shanghai and moving out in the direction of other megacities with their rapidly burgeoning and affluent populations. Practically not a month goes by when Lee and his dedicated team do not open at least one new boutique in another huge city.

Small wonder, then, that Lee is on the road half the time and rarely to be found in his Shanghai office. Visiting customers, assessing potential locations and appointing staff: his working days are long and stressful. A normal one is from eight to eight, usually followed by a long business dinner. Relations with retailers, media representatives and many others who play an important part in the brand’s success need cultivating. But the time is well invested. In China, people forge deeper relationships and finalize deals – obtaining a prime location in a shopping mall, for instance – at the dinner table.

It is certainly difficult to succeed in a country so enormous without personal connections. Dennis Lee falls back mainly on his Taiwanese roots, which stretch back into China, from where his grandfather once emigrated. In mainland China, because of the similarities in language and culture, the Taiwanese have a widespread reputation of being among the country’s most successful investors and business people.

 

Their expensive watches from Schaffhausen set them apart and have become a status symbol signifying success

Two years ago, when Lee first set his sights on the Chinese market, IWC was relatively weakly positioned. “Back then, the market hadn’t realized the true value of our watches,” explains Lee. In the meantime all that has changed completely. With the support and trust from the company to do drastic changes, success has come from clean-up of distribution with closure of 30% of inferior shops, more strategic pricing, and with a marketing positioning based on focus together with the strapline “Engineered for men” found on the ads that appear only in the best business, lifestyle and professional watch magazines.

Giving IWC this positioning has gone down well with successful Chinese men, who are really not in short supply. Their expensive watches from Schaffhausen set them apart and have become a status symbol signifying success. And, as Lee explains, the Chinese are pretty emphatic about that: “They do not mind showing their affluence to the outside world.” Understandably, because economic success is still a relatively new phenomenon.

They probably tend to hold by the same principle IWC’s man in China extends to his work: “I always try to do my best. That way, I have nothing to regret even if things go wrong.” Commitment like this leaves him little free time. It’s enough for a brief get-together at the weekend with his beloved daughter, who he loves to cook for, at home in Taiwan. On Sunday evening, it’s time to get back to Shanghai, which takes him 80 minutes by plane.

Going around in his head are probably the names of the other megacities in China that he could try conquering for Schaffhausen. After all, there are still many of them.

 
Explore More Articles
GIVING A FUTURE TO THE GALAPAGOS

“September 17, 1835. As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least 200 pounds. One was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly stalked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head."

Aquatimer
DISCOVER THE NEW AQUATIMER COLLECTION

Christian Knoop, Creative Director at IWC, explains the design of the new Aquatimer watches.

SIHH 2014 Booth
BEHIND THE SCENES AT IWC'S SIHH 2014 BOOTH

Take the wave to Geneva. For the 24th edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), IWC invites visitors to take a plunge into deep water and discover the fascinating species that define the new Aquatimer collection.

Watches and Wonders
WATCHES&WONDERS

IWC Schaffhausen cordially invites you and guest to WATCHES&WONDERS, the first Asian Haute Horlogerie exhibition at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre from September 25th-28th, 2013. To mark this event, IWC Schaffhausen will offer a chance to win an exclusive trip for two people to visit IWC’s manufacture in Schaffhausen, the home of IWC and will be whisked away to Portofino in Italy, where they will experience the inspiration behind one of IWC’s most famous collections.

NYC Skyline
IWC Schaffhausen Makes a Home on Madison Avenue

An epicenter of business and culture, New York City is one of the world’s most iconic cities. Both locals and tourists take advantage of the arts and theatres, renowned chefs and restaurants, and the constant flux of activity that makes the city one of a kind. So it makes sense that it is also home to IWC Schaffhausen’s North American flagship boutique, opened in April 2012 on the famous luxury shopping destination of Madison Avenue.

Beverly Hills
Schaffhausen and the World's Most Famous Zip Code 90210

As the first IWC boutique to open its doors in the United States, IWC Schaffhausen has been serving American watch aficionados since 2008.

Ingenieur 2013 Collection
Discover the new Ingenieur Collection

Learn more about the new Ingenieur timepieces from IWC Creative Director, Christian Knoop.

IWC's SIHH Booth 2013
Behind-the-Scenes at IWC's SIHH 2013 Booth

Take a behind-the-scenes look at IWC’s SIHH 2013 booth, the year of the Ingenieur watches.