An Interview With Max Busser

MB&F Max Busser on entrepreneurial spirit and life-changing gut decision
MB&F’s Max Busser on entrepreneurial spirit and life-changing gut decision.

10 years on, MB&F looks back on its journey. Here is an interview with Max Busser of MB&F that was conducted by Zach Toh of Watch Culture.

Zach: Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on the 10th anniversary of MB&F and the launch of the HMX. Much has been said about the watch so I’ll just focus on MB&F and you. Could you kindly share how it was growing up and how it shaped you as an entrepreneur?

Max: I do not think that there was much entrepreneurial spirit around me when I was growing up. No one in my social or family circle was an entrepreneur or artist. So even though I dreamed of becoming a car designer, it seemed normal to choose instead to become an engineer and to seek a job in a multi-national company. A safe choice. I did a lot of safe in those days. But at the end of my Masters 24 years ago, I took my first ever life-changing gut decision, and instead of entering Procter & Gamble, I chose an ailing little watch company called Jaeger-LeCoultre. I think I followed as much Henry-John Belmont who quickly became a surrogate father to me, as my passion for beautiful watchmaking.

Saving JLC with that little team made me so happy. It gave me a meaning. Most people don’t see how their job matters. We were so small and in such bad shape that every one of our moves altered the course. And it was exhilarating. I did not know it at the time, but I got my first taste of entrepreneurship and it became an addiction. During my seven years at JLC, I learned as much about beautiful watchmaking as how to work hard and efficiently. Then during my seven years at Harry Winston, I gradually understood who I was and what was important for me. Without those 14 years there would never been an MB&F.

Max Busser on creating MB&F and the trying moments.
Max Busser on creating MB&F and the trying moments.

Zach: There were some trying moments during these ten years, how did you manage to not only survive, but succeed in creating a following in MB&F?

Max: When I set upon creating MB&F I was ready to fail. The goal was never money – the whole business model I created is a financial nonsense (any CFO or Private Equity specialist would have had a heart attack and still would) – but Pride. I needed to try, I needed to write this chapter of my story and if I failed I would have at least gone down trying.

As such, all the issues we hit – and we had our fair share (we actually were on the verge of bankruptcy in May 2007 the month before the first piece even came out) – were just part of the journey. There were countless sleepless nights and many really scary moments, but each time we fell on our knees we found the resources to get back up on our feet. And after a moment you realize like a martial arts competitor that it’s not about avoiding the knocks and hits, it’s about knowing you will be able to get back up on your feet.

I often wondered how come we garnered such a loyal following over the years, and then one day I saw Simon Sinek’s TED talk explaining “the power of Why ?” and it made so much sense. We had spent all these years trying to express ourselves artistically without caring for what clients think, and at the same time explaining to everyone WHY we were on our creative quest. Those who “got it” (a very small minority) became part of the creative adventure themselves. We are all of us in this together.

Zach: What keeps you going and what keeps you awake at night?

Max: Creativity is an addiction and it only gets worse with time.  The more you create, the more you want to create.  And the M.A.D. Gallery has allowed me to meet so many incredible creators in their own field so that sparks more “performance art” pieces.

I have spent many years worrying about how to avoid the next mine we would tread on, but having survived all of them, am now more serene – even though I don’t doubt there will be many more to come!

Zach: You opened the M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva 2011 and this was followed by another in Taiwan last year.  How do you assess which markets are ready for such visually stunning creations?

Max: Most were amazed that our second M.A.D. Gallery was in Taipei (instead of say New York, Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai).  The reason we opened there was Lori Shen, who has been working with us in Taiwan for many years, and who is an extraordinary partner.  As with everything we do, we work first with people and this is a prime example.  Same applies for the third M.A.D. Gallery which will be open in Dubai this Autumn.  We chose Dubai because our partners, the Seddiqi family have become great and trustworthy friends over the years.  We both know that for them, it will not be a lucrative project but pride motivates them much more than money.

MB&F Max Busser on the next 10 years.
MB&F’s Max Busser on the next 10 years.

Zach: In the Press meeting, you mentioned that being small and nimble is good for MB&F and you wish to stop growing!  I find it interesting because most entrepreneurs or companies will want to expand their business.  Can you share your thoughts for the benefit of my readers?

Max: I had a secret goal whilst creating MB&F: to hit 300 pieces/year, 15 million Sfr (about 20 million Sing$) and 15 employees.  We reached that milestone in 2013, eights years after the creation, and instead of setting another higher objective, we decided that we had reached our comfort zone and that we would not grow anymore.
I believe that if we grow, not only will we put our company in danger, but we will also lose our strongest assets: being nimble and quick, being able to take very high creative risks and enabling each member of the team to feel -rightly so – that their contribution is crucial.  Also as the awareness of the brand keeps on growing but the quantities produced remain constant, it has generated this year an incredible demand – way higher than we ever expected.  A good example being the complete sell-out in record time of the HMX and Melchior.  Which in turn gives us more serenity to create more extreme pieces in the future…

Zach: And Finally, I have to ask this clichéd interview question … Where do you see MB&F in the next ten years?

Max: If you had told me when I launched MB&F that I would have created a round watch a few years later, I would have answered NEVER!  If you had told me I would have created an Art Gallery or a music box, I would have thought you were delusional.  So it’s finally dawning on me that I have no idea what I will want to do in the next ten years.  I do not know how my tastes and aspirations will evolve and who I will meet – and how that will change my creative course once more.

This post was first published in www.watchculture.blogspot.sg.


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