Julien Tornare, TAG Heuer’s New CEO, Talks Cool Factor & The Relaunched Sydney Boutique
— 4 March 2024

Julien Tornare, TAG Heuer’s New CEO, Talks Cool Factor & The Relaunched Sydney Boutique

— 4 March 2024
Randy Lai
Randy Lai

Last week, on the cusp of a star-studded evening with TAG Heuer (attended by everybody from Troye Sivan to global ambassador Patrick Dempsey) Boss Hunting was fortunate to spend five minutes with Julien Tornare — the brand’s newly appointed global CEO.

Shod in Loro Piana Summer Walks and sporting a gently tousled salt ‘n’ pepper mane, Tornare looks every inch the part of the charismatic chief executive you’d expect at the helm of a luxury watch marque.

The former head honcho of Zenith (who made his bones working for Richemont Group in East Asia) was in town to inaugurate the relaunch of TAG Heuer’s Sydney flagship: a boutique with reportedly global significance, given its competitiveness with sister sites in Dubai and Paris.

Right before the influencers started trickling in and the Chateau d’Esclans began to flow, we took the opportunity to quiz Tornare about recent history at TAG Heuer; where he hopes to take the company in coming years; and why the refreshed Sydney boutique will offer an elevated experience to watch lovers.

RELATED: Nicholas Biebuyck, Heritage Director of TAG Heuer, On The Maison’s DNA And How To Collect Vintage Heuer

Editor’s Note: The transcript of this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Randy Lai: I suppose we might start with an easy one – what brings you, the global CEO of one of the world’s most influential luxury watch brands, to Sydney this week?

Julien Tornare: As you’re probably aware, I started my new role with the company about two months ago. So I’ve been [emphasises] immersed in everything TAG Heuer these last few weeks. 

I’m very happy to say that this week’s visit to Australia marks my first in the capacity of CEO and that has been super exciting.

Of course, this country is – and has always been – an important market for us. So it’s been great to meet the team, our retailers, the press, all of the collectors; and of course, have this wonderful event celebrating the relaunch of our Sydney flagship.

Pictured: Tornare (second from right) with actor Patrick Dempsey and Van Mulryan, General Manager of TAG Heuer Australia.

RL: Just staying on the relationship with Australia for a moment, could you speak briefly about the history of TAG Heuer in our market?

JT: Our presence here goes back many decades – to 1987 in fact. 

At that time, our founder Mr. Jack Heuer was still very active in the company’s business and the groundwork he did in other English-speaking parts of the world (including the US) meant we were able to establish ourselves here, relatively quickly, in the 1990s. 

I also think, relatedly, that TAG Heuer is a good match for the Aussie mindset and active lifestyle. We seem to be aligned with a lot of what watch lovers in this country value.

RL: As you’ve just mentioned, you’re quite new to TAG Heuer – having only joined the company in January. As a veteran watch executive, what initially attracted you to the brand?

JT: For the last 7 years, I’ve been working at Zenith, where I basically dedicated all of my efforts to a global repositioning of the brand. [Laughs] That wasn’t an easy task. 

Still, in this, I think we succeeded, and so I began to think about expanding my horizons: ideally within the [LVMH] group, ideally within the watch industry. Because, when all is said and done, I’m really a big fan of watches!

RL: Good to hear, because we’re going to talk about that in a second. 

JT: So when I heard that Frédéric [Arnault’s] role would also be evolving, I put my hand up to get involved with TAG Heuer and we started having some internal discussions. 

The timing was also great: because Frédéric had kicked off a lot of strategic initiatives that I’m looking forward to growing over the next several years. 

This sort of scale can be challenging, but I’m also very happy to be leading a watch brand that is very active and dynamic in its approach to marketing. 

If you look at the brands I’ve worked with, they all have a rich heritage on one side and a contemporary spirit of innovation on the other. What I really enjoy is getting the right balance between the two.

Let’s be clear: I don’t use the chronograph to measure the time needed to scramble an egg, but rather, to tell people an emotional (and hopefully interesting) story.

RL: Similarly, as a collector and watch lover, what elements about TAG Heuer did you find to be the most exciting?

JT: Honestly, the thing about the brand I’ve always been most drawn to is the connection to sports – particularly motoring. Clearly, this is a part of our legacy that also resonates a lot with customers. 

And then, TAG Heuer’s watches themselves are made with a lot of values that I attach importance to. The product is robust, focused, and defined, in many aspects, by performance.

Today you can see I’m wearing a Carrera Chronosprint, because I enjoy the purist aspect of watchmaking: in this case a highly technical ‘accelerating’ version of the chronograph.

RL: It’s a very cool piece. There’s just something special about chronos in precious metal – particularly rose gold.

JT: Let’s be clear: I don’t use the chronograph to measure the time needed to scramble an egg [laughs], but rather, to tell people an emotional (and hopefully interesting) story.

RL: Your predecessor, Frédéric Arnault, has been credited with steering TAG in a bold new direction over the past three years. Which of the initiatives, started under his tenure, are you most excited to be continuing and expanding on?

JT: Well, there are quite a few. But if I had to narrow it down to one I’d say the ongoing repositioning of the brand. I believe TAG Heuer deserves to be perceived with a higher standard, without – at the same time – losing its cool factor, and its casualness. 

In the core segment that we do business, we’re looking to put know-how and technicity front and centre. But of course, always balancing that with the 21st-century-ness of our brand. 

There was a concerted effort, during Frédéric’s tenure, to elevate the quality of our product: the movements, level of finishing, everything. For me, this always extends to distribution and marketing; and that’s why we’re here tonight, celebrating the new concept behind our Sydney boutique.

RL: Just on that last point, can you tell us a little more about the revamped concept for the new flagship?

JT: So, our Sydney flagship has been a fixture for a really long time, but the relaunch has enabled us to welcome clients at a much higher level. 

First and foremost, as a watch boutique, it seems sort of obvious [laughs] but you have to have watches that you can show to customers. So, for us, there’s a huge emphasis on making products available for clients to see and try.

We also like to think of the boutique as an ‘embassy’. We’re not in the business of selling gadgets, so it’s crucial to have a branded environment that elicits positive emotion from the clientele: whether they want to talk about how many screws are used in our movements, or why we have ambassadors like Patrick Dempsey.

RL: In the 7 years you were in charge of Zenith, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the company’s revenues doubled. In the process of achieving that growth, were there any strategic lessons you learned that could be broadly relevant for TAG? 

JT: When I first joined Zenith, the brand had been pushed to some extremes. The messaging was a bit confusing, so my job – in essence – was clarification. We looked at everything: from the best platform for the product, to a roadmap for the future of the brand. 

The biggest challenge, when you’re working with a brand in a difficult place, is to get everybody into the same boat. Prior to joining Zenith, I’d been living in New York and Hong Kong for almost a decade: and initially, the team in Le Locle [where the brand is based] were like, “Who is this guy?”. So you have to establish rapport by giving everybody quick wins, and reigniting their sense of team spirit. 

With TAG, my hope is to bring that same team-focused approach strongly to the forefront: making sure we are all going in the same direction, and working in a positive atmosphere.

RL: To finish, something fun and unserious – we are a lifestyle publication after all. Given how far Le Locle is from Australia, what’s one essential tip you have for fighting jet lag and staying productive after a long-haul flight? 

JT: Nowadays, the main difficulty I sometimes have is sleeping in the evenings. Personally, I hate pills: I never take medication, unless medically obliged. 

However, what I have been doing is taking melatonin – a very efficient means of relaxation and falling asleep. Rest tends to be the main source of unwellness if we don’t get enough of it, so I’m always trying to sleep as much as I can. 

Actually, whilst I was living in Asia, I also got into the habit of power napping. At first, I was sceptical about the benefits a 15-minute nap could deliver, but after taking them for so many years, I think it works quite well!

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Randy Lai
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].


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