Faced with declining sales, Montblanc International CEO Jerome Lambert explains how he hopes to bring the historic pen maker forward in the digital age.
On a mission to visit every single one of Montblanc’s 400 boutiques, CEO Jérôme Lambert, has paused his tour for a whistle-stop trip to New York to mark the 90th anniversary of Meisterstück, the iconic writing instrument.
The event marks a transformational year for the luxury accessory maker, which is undergoing a restructuring exercise in light of falling sales.
Among Lambert’s first initiatives at the helm of the German luxury good maker was the Meisterstück Heritage collection released in January, which was taken from concept to delivery in less than six months, and features pieces designed and priced to appeal to a wider audience.
“It’s important to be value-oriented for our clients,” he explains, looking remarkably fresh faced after the star studded cocktail and dinner party the night before.
“We’re moving forward and expressing what we can do in terms of expertise with these new lines. It will definitely bring new clients to Montblanc.”
Despite the challenge he faces, the CEO paints a confident picture, explaining in his thick German accent, dotted with French phrases, how he has enjoyed “readdressing new priorities and a new vision” since taking the top job in July last year.
Lambert is no newcomer to the luxury accessory industry, having joined Montblanc from Swiss watch and clock maker Jaeger-LeCoultre, where he became CEO aged just 33.
In his 15 years at the helm of the Le Sentier, France-based firm, which is also owned by Montblanc parent Richemont, the business tripled in size and joined the premier league of watchmakers.
WRITING ON THE WALL
The Montblanc chief says he has carried with him several important lessons from his previous role, including the need for charisma in leadership and maintaining constant contact with his team, all rounded off with a sense of fun and positivity.
“Even the most rational messages cannot go through if they are not carried by charisma,” he says.
These lessons could prove valuable in improving Montblanc’s performance, which has been impacted by lower sales and reorganisation costs. The company’s sales fell five per cent to 730 million euros in its FY2014 from 766 million euros in FY2013.
“Strength in the jeweler and specialist watch segments offset the softness of certain fashion maisons and Montblanc,” noted Yves- André Istel, chairman of Montblanc’s parent company Richemont, in announcing its FY2014 financial results.
Montblanc is an altogether bigger beast than Jaeger-LeCoultre, spread across four sites in three countries including extremely bespoke operations like Velleret, which produces around 50 handmade watches each year.
Lambert’s task includes overseeing changes in the way Montblanc has done business till now. Among them, a reduction of wholesale points of sale to upgrade the company’s positioning and a global restructuring to integrate Richemont distribution platforms and shared services, states the FY2014 report.
The global tour, which saw him stop off at Montblanc’s new Abu Dhabi store earlier this year, has helped him get better reacquainted with the company’s operations as he helps undertake this shift.
“It’s a maison that is more than 100 years old with different product categories. It takes time to try to understand and feel it the right way,” Lambert asserts.
But the Montblanc chief admits that keeping such a classic brand moving forward is not without its hurdles. “One of the biggest challenges is to create a good consistency between the different activities and ensure they reinforce one another,” he says.
Turning around Montblanc’s fortunes could mean turning, at least to some extent, away from its legacy.
It was in 1906 when German businessmen Alfred Nehemias and August Eberstein returned from a trip to the US fascinated by the invention of the fountain pen and decided to make one of their own – beginning a chain of events that would see Montblanc rise to the pinnacle of writing instruments.
Now, some 108 years later, the world is a different place, with the fountain pen becoming less relevant in a digital age of PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
When Lambert’s appointment was announced, some in the industry feared the watch veteran would shift the company’s emphasis away from writing instruments, which still make up around 45 per cent of Montblanc sales. And it was acknowledged that more sustainable long-term growth would come from developing Montblanc’s capabilities in watches and leather accessories.
But Lambert stresses that the greater role other product categories are set to play would not reduce the importance of writing instruments to Montblanc’s identity.
“The writing instrument is the DNA of the maison, in terms of creativity, time and recognition,” he says.
That the Meisterstück collection features no less than five models, from the 149,Classique and LeGrand Fountain pens to a Rollarball and Ballpoint, should also go some way in quelling any doubts. Clearly, the success of this line will be watched closely in the months ahead.
“We are focused on Meisterstück, from the writing instrument to watches and leather. On the other end, we are looking at introducing these lines into the different markets in a global approach,” says Lambert.
CHINA SLOWING, MIDDLE EAST RISING
Among the factors impacting Montblanc’s sales has been a slowing down of the luxury market in China where, in addition to Europe, the company has a strong reliance on domestic clientele. It comes as little surprise therefore that that Lambert is looking to boost Montblanc’s position in other markets including the Middle East.
“The whole region is very profitable and successful,” he says. “The leadership of the region, in terms of trade and activities, is reinforcing itself and we intend to strengthen our presence and create an original hub.”
The more personal shopping style preferred by wealthy locals in the region also fits in well with the emotional connection Montblanc likes to create with customers. “It’s not about selling, it’s about the long relationship, positive reputation and impact,” Lambert argues.
This approach has already netted Montblanc very high-end clients and collectors in the region, he says, and there could be more potential for the company.
Montblanc has historically made fewer sales from tourists, relying on local customers in both established and new markets. However, luxury-focused international shopping options now available in the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi could help change this.
“We see the dynamism of the region, in terms of tourism; it brings us a lot of new clients,” explains Lambert, highlighting the role Middle East will have to play in helping the Montblanc chief bring the company back to form.
Residents of Kenya’s Lamu Island awoke on July 7 to find leaflets emblazoned with the insignia of Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist militancy. Locals said the message was clear: If you are Christian, get off our land.
“We warn Christians and Kenyan government to stop oppressing our Muslim brothers,” read a flier seen by The Wall Street Journal.
Most of the Christians in predominantly Muslim Lamu county received land…
(Vatican Radio) The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq has written to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to put pressure on international community to step up assistance to Iraq’s Christians and minorities targeted by Islamic militants.
Below the text of the Patriarch’s letter
I am writing to you about the current situation in Iraq and the Middle East, which is of big concern to me and I know it is for you and the United Nations. Let me also take this opportunity to thank you and the United Nations Security Council on the issued statement of condemnation against ISIS. The instability in Iraq threatens the entire region. Diplomatic pressure is sought to address the growing instability in the Middle East. The instability in the region is worrisome because of the increasing attacks mounted on Christians and minorities.
We, as the Christian community, appeals to the United Nations to put political pressure on the international community, the Security Council cannot stand by and be a witness to the ongoing atrocities committed against Christians. We were happy when your statement acknowledged that the crimes committed against Christians constitute crimes against humanity, we therefore urge you to put pressure on all to respect human rights.
Excellency, we Christians are peace-loving citizens caught up in the middle of a clash between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as attacks from Military groups. Our community has suffered a disproportionate share of hardship caused by sectarian conflicts, terrorist attacks, migration and now even ethnic cleansing: the militants want to wipe out the Christian community.
We appeal urgently to the United Nations to pressure the Iraqi government and put into practice every effort to protect the ethnic and religious minorities. The new government, once established, should engage in the protection of minorities and the fight against extremism.
We urge the United Nations to accelerate humanitarian assistance, ensuring that aid reaches those communities and those vulnerable groups who are in need of urgent help. In view of the current situation, this need for assistance might take longer than a year. The displaced Christian community needs water, medicines and basic services.
We urge the United Nations to develop a plan or strategy to protect and preserve our heritage, looted and burned by the militants. They continue to burn churches and ancient monasteries. The old churches and monasteries will be difficult to rebuild.
We have seen some beautiful sites during our travels around the world. But don’t take our word for it (although you should; we are experts) — many of our favorite places are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which means they are “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.” And there you have it — spots that make this list are absolutely stunning. To date, there are 911 sites on the list and we have seen a ton of them. But to make things a tad more manageable, we’ve pared it down to 9 sites that you’ve just got to see. And if you can make it to all 911, then by all means go for it.
1. Statue of Liberty, New York City
We’re starting local — for us, at least. A beacon of hope for travelers to New York City since it was dedicated in 1886, the Statue of the Liberty is one of the most-recognized and beloved National Monuments in the United States. Visitors can walk to the top for sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline from the statue’s crown, and many visit Ellis Island at the same time to round out their historical and cultural trip.
Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park
As expected of the luxury brand, this Ritz property boasts gorgeous rooms, top-notch service and a long list of amenities. Some rooms feature views of the Statue of Liberty.
2. Canal Ring, Amsterdam
It may have celebrated its 400th birthday last year, but Amsterdam’s gorgeous Canal Ring has only been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. Creating a semi-circle around Old Center, the Canal Ring is a series of man-made waterways lined by beautiful historic mansions. Though it has expanded over the years, the Canal Ring was first made in the 17th century in order to provide a means of movement for shipping within the city center.
Where to Stay: Hotel Pulitzer, a Luxury Collection
The Hotel Pulitzer is a charming luxury property in the Canal Loop of Amsterdam. The hotel is made up of a block of 25 restored 17th and 18th century canal houses and is full of historic details.
3. Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Covering a massive expanse of land in the northwest region of Costa Rica, the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste has been a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site for 15 years. With both land and sea, it is home to beautiful rainforests and beaches where a plethora of protected wildlife — like jaguars, hummingbirds, bats and sea turtles, just to name a few — live.
Where to Stay: Reserva Conchal
Located in Guanacaste, Reserva Conchal is comprised of four individual condo villages, each with several buildings clustered around a communal pool.
4. White City of Tel-Aviv, Israel
One of the “youngest” cultural sites to make the UNESCO list, the White City is a collection of over 4,000 buildings (painted white, hence the area’s name) built in the Bauhaus style in the 1930s by German Jewish architects who came to Tel Aviv to escape the rise of Nazis. Not only is it the largest collection of Bauhaus buildings in a single city in the world, but it is considered an outstanding example of 20th-century city planning.
Where to Stay: Alma Hotel Lounge
With just 15 rooms, the Alma is one of Tel Aviv’s best and most intimate boutique hotels, conveniently located in the White City. Rooms come with an abundance of thoughtful extras, including welcome treats, espresso machines, and loaner iPads (upon request).
5. The Pitons, St. Lucia
One of the most naturally stunning sites in the Caribbean, the Pitons are two volcanic mountains that rise out of the sea. The juxtaposition of their lush green color against the crystal-clear blue of the Caribbean Sea makes for breathtaking photo ops, and the pair — nicknamed the Grand Piton and the Petit Piton — have been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2004.
Where to Stay: The Still Beach House
This budget-friendly five-room inn along Soufriere Bay has no gym, no spa and no pool — in fact, the only extras are direct access to a public beach and a breezy restaurant and bar. And rooms would be average, if it weren’t for the incredible views they boast of Petit Piton, which appears at arm’s length from every room’s private balcony.
6. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Notre Dame is one of the most beautiful, and best preserved, examples of Gothic architecture in the world. Nowadays a museum — but still a place for regular worship — entry to the cathedral is free and is a must-do when in Paris.
Where to Stay: Hotel Le Notre Dame
Within steps of the Notre Dame Cathedral, this hotel is also notable for its chic rooms, designed by Christian LaCroix.
7. Yosemite National Park, California
One of a dozen natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the U.S., Yosemite National Park is arguably the most important to visit. Encompassing over 700,000 acres across east central California and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it draws millions of visitors each year to its majestic cliffs, waterfalls, and canyons. From hiking and biking to climbing and skiing, tourists can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities in America’s third-oldest national park.
Where to Stay: The Ahwahnee
Nestled deep amongst the pine trees, cliffs, and canyons of Yosemite Valley is the 123-room Ahwahnee Hotel. The impressive stone and wood structure, built in 1927, is considered a National Historic Landmark.
8. Belize Barrier Reef
Belize is considered one of the best spots for diving in the world, in large parts thanks to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Belize Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. Indigenous wildlife like turtles, manatees, crocodiles and hundreds of species of fish and coral call its waters home. The site also includes sand cays, mangrove forests, lagoons and estuaries.
Where to Stay: Chabil Mar
Chabil Mar, right on the beach on Placencia Peninsula, has 22 spacious villas equipped with family-friendly amenities: open kitchens, washers/dryers, closet space and one to two bedrooms.
9. Sydney Opera House, Australia
Inaugurated in 1973 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic structures in the country-continent. Not only does it boast breathtaking views of the Sydney Harbor, but its awe-inspiring design makes for top-notch acoustics for the many performances that take place in the space annually.
Where to Stay: Pullman Quay Grand Sydney
These chic one- and two-bedroom apartment-style units look out over peaceful green gardens or the busy but beautiful harbor, and have floor-to-ceiling windows; modern, minimalist decor; big kitchens; dining areas; and cozy living rooms.
Depending what country they come from, the Australian government has offered asylum-seekers in its Manus and Nauru offshore detention centres up to AU$10,000 (R100,500) to go home. Those who don’t volunteer will spend a “very, very long time” in the centres, the Immigration Minister has threatened. Lebanese asylum-seekers are reportedly being paid $10,000; while Iranians and Sudanese get $7,000; Iraqis $6,000; Afghans $4,000; and Pakistani, Nepalese and Burmese asylum- seekers, only $3,300.
Elaine Pearson, Australia Director of Human Rights Watch, said the government had made conditions in the centres “so awful that people are encouraged to go back to active conflict zones”.
All this despite Australia’s being party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which prohibits the return of asylum-seekers to potential persecution.
What’s the difference between a big O and a little one? A great deal, it seems, when it relates to the occupied status of East Jerusalem. Last year, the Australian government announced it was “rebalancing” its position on the Middle East and abstaining from UN resolutions condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements.
On June 6, Attorney-General George Brandis said that the term “Occupied East Jerusalem” had pejorative implications and was “not useful or appropriate”. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his government would “refuse” to use the word occupied, instead, referring to “disputed” territories.
Among those who took exception were the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation which represents 57 Islamic countries and – with threats of trade sanctions and a backlash from Australian farmers – rural politicians concerned about the AU$2 billion sheep and cattle trade. It was left to foreign minister Julie Bishop to untangle the mess. According to Izzat Abdulhadi, who was part of a Palestinian delegation that met Bishop, Senator Brandis meant only the capital “O” in Occupied when used as part of a noun or name; the government would continue to use occupied with a small “o”.
Still on the international front, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee took less than ten minutes to unanimously reject the Abbott government’s attempt to have World Heritage protection removed from 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian native forest, and open up for logging “the tallest flowering forest on earth”.
Mother Dear: Gina Rinehart
While conservationists breathed a sigh of relief on that score, the government’s policy of fast-tracking highly controversial port developments close to the Unesco-protected Great Barrier Reef grinds on. So it was that actor Leonardo DiCaprio used his celebrity clout to highlight the fact that the Queensland reef, where he goes diving, was a wonderland 20 years ago but now is “riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones”.
Perhaps Australians, who have inched their politicians slowly to the right, are at last baulking. A Nielsen poll of 1,400 respondents showed that for the first time, 61% judged the federal government’s recent budget “not fair”. Another poll – of 1,145 Australians – on behalf of The Climate Institute, found only 20% were satisfied that the government was taking the climate-change threat seriously. John Connor, the chief executive of the institute, has been quoted as saying that “the dinosaurs in politics and business are roaring across our landscape”.
The planned buy-out of Australian billionaire Solomon Lew’s 11.8% stake in the Country Road clothing business by “the South Africans” (Woolworths) is seen in the Australian media as a “windfall” and “a breathtaking victory” for Smart Solly, to whom Woolworths has “capitulated”. Lew, regarded as a master tactician, is set to make AU$207 million profit from the deal, plus AU$200 million for his 10% of the associated David Jones sale to Woolworths.
Australia’s richest family, the Rineharts, is once again publicly tearing itself apart over who gets control of a AU$5 billion trust fund, a position vacated by the family’s matriarch, mining magnate Gina Rinehart after allegations of misconduct by three of her children. In the Supreme Court in June, daughter Bianca Rinehart said she’d invited none of her family to her wedding in Hawaii last year because she’d wanted it to be “a happy affair”. She had been subjected to repeated threats and intimidation by her mother, her lawyer said.
In the meantime, mother Gina, says Australians have too much of an entitlement mentality and are living beyond their means and she’s worried about the country’s economy in a world where Africans “will labour for $2 a day”.
The Grand Bazaar of Tabriz, a historic complex located in Iran’s northwestern province of East Azarbaijan, is named the largest roofed bazaar in the world.
The bazaar, situated in the middle of Tabriz, is one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East and the largest covered bazaar in the world.
It was nominated as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO World Heritage Center back in August 2010. The decision was made in the 34th meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Brasilia, Brazil.
The monument was the first bazaar that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Center selected as a valuable cultural heritage.
Tabriz Historical Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions. This spectacular structure consists of several sub-bazaars and has different economic and cultural spaces.
Although numerous modern shops and malls have been established recently, the Bazaar of Tabriz still remains the economic heart of the city and northwestern Iran.
Comedians poking fun of the Middle East isn’t the minefield it used to be. The Axis of Evil comedy tour helped spread post-9/11 humor, and clubs now devote entire nights to comics of Middle Eastern heritage. If all good comedy comes from pain, what better material than war, terrorism and bloodshed?
That’s the idea behind iO West’s new sketch show, The Arab Israeli Comedy Hour, which has upcoming performances on July 24 and 31. Roni Geva and Daniel Younathan run wild like two crazy infidels lampooning not only the political and social upheaval in that part of the world — including that biggest of minefields, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — but also Arab and Muslim stereotypes, including everything from territorial wars to fetishizing women with guns to the white-washing of ethnic cuisine. (Rosemary in falafel? Scary.)“The Middle East is rife with so many stories,” Younathan says during an interview with Geva at a Hollywood café. “Why not use those and bring those to the forefront and not just focus on one?”
When they enter the stage, Geva and Younathan greet the audience with a loud zaghareet, a high-pitched ululation, which, if you’ve ever heard at a Middle Eastern wedding will have your ears ringing. “Please don’t leave,” Geva says at the start of the show. “Because I strapped a bomb to the back of the door, so if you leave, you die.”
Geva is from Tel Aviv, where she’s done comedy and theater, including performing for Israeli soldiers. Younathan was born in London to an Assyrian-Christian family originally from Iraq. (Assyrians are descended from an ancient civilization that included part of what is now Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.) The two moved to different cities before meeting each other at the Groundlings. They conceived the idea of staging something that explored their seemingly opposite yet very similar backgrounds. (Geva performed a different version of the show at both the iO here and in Chicago in 2003 with another partner, who was of Lebanese descent.) They premiered The Arab Israeli Comedy Hour at iO West’s improv festival in June.
Geva and Younathan zip through more than a dozen skits, putting a comedic twist on even the most heady of subjects. In their hands, conflict over land is akin to fighting over a chair, each booting the other off with props like a dollar bill, dynamite and a machine gun, all set to the soundtrack from Jaws.
“If you boil it down, it can become juvenile and dumb and embarrassing on both sides,” Geva says. “So in my mind I thought of it as two kids fighting over the last cookie or a chair.”
“You could emote more with physicality,” Younathan says. “It’s more intelligent that way, because what could we possibly say that hasn’t been said.”
Other sketches take place at a Syrian voting booth, a Baghdad Holiday Inn Express, a terrorist cell with two, bickering terrorists and a UC Berkeley poetry slam, where two girls — a Jew and a Muslim — bemoan the West’s misappropriation of falafel.
“It doesn’t just represent food, it represents how we treat people,” Younathan says. “We change the food like we’re changing the people.”
Geva and Younathan even perform a couple of musical spoofs, including one in which they change lyrics to Katy Perry songs: “I kissed a girl and I got stoned” and “’Cause, baby, you’re an atom bomb.”
“These songs are super popular and super catchy, and they’re just burned into your psyche,” Geva says. “So when you change the lyrics people are immediately surprised,” Younathan adds. “And for a comedian, that’s what you look for — the element of surprise. We wanted to juxtapose the happiness with the sadness of these characters.”
In another, a West Side Story send-up called “West Bank Story,” they change the lyrics in “Somewhere” to: “There’s two states for us/Right here, two states for us/Peace and harmony fill the air/Drop your uzies and we’ll take you there.” (Though this concept isn’t completely fresh — there’s also an Oscar-winning short film called West Bank Story.)
Geva and Younathan don’t have any misgivings about satirizing such polarizing topics. They hope to — inshallah — take the show to different cities and upload bits onto Youtube, with the exception of one called “Epic Rap Battle” that involves the two dressed as Moses and Mohammed smack-talking each other.
“We got very strong advice against putting it on Youtube, so as to not get a Fatwa on our lives,” Geva says. “And I wanna live.” Younathan says.
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