Biel, Switzerland—Nicolas Hayek, aka “Mr. Swatch,” one of the leaders in turning around the Swiss watch industry in 1980s, died today at age 82.
Hayek, who was chairman of the Swatch Group, the largest watch manufacturing company in the world, died of a heart attack, according to a Swiss news reports.
“Mr.Hayek’s greatest merit was his enormous contribution to the saving of the Swiss watch industry and the foundation and the commercial development of the Swatch Group,” the company said in a statement today. “Hayek’s extraordinary vision enabled him to realize and ensure the sustainability of a strong watch-making enterprise with high Swiss added value. He is rightly recognized as a leading entrepreneur in this country.”
A native of Beirut, Lebanon, Hayek became a legendary figure in the Swiss watch industry. By the 1980s, the Swiss watch industry was in dire straits, overwhelmed by new quartz movements and watch manufacturing made in Japan. Hayek co-founded a company that merged two struggling Swiss watchmakers and launched an artsy plastic watch brand: Swatch. The watches became a worldwide sensation and served as a basis for Hayek to build a an international empire that now includes 19 brands, including Omega, Blancpain, Breguet, Hamilton, Rado, Longines, Tissot and Tiffany.
While his son, Nicolas Hayek Jr., took over as Swatch Group ceo in 2003, Hayek remained very much involved in the company’s strategies and a vocal champion of Swiss watchmaking. The Swatch Group, which owns 156 factories and supplies nearly all components required by the company’s own brands in addition to other Swiss and international watchmakers, posted gross sales of 5.4 billion Swiss francs in 2009.