Guiding Britain’s Top-Selling Watch Retailer

For Laurent Feniou, managing director of Cartier UK, the group’s focus on digital activity and e-commerce is well matched with Cartier’s own strategy, as well as being complementary in terms of retail store locations in Britain. “Cartier is London-centric but with Watches of Switzerland and Goldsmiths, we can have a broad reach across the country,” he said in a phone interview.

A key strategy announced in Watches of Switzerland’s five-year plan, published last year, is further acquisitions and investments in the United States as well as venturing into Europe, with plans to open six single-brand boutiques in Sweden, Denmark and Ireland next year. It also has ventured into pre-owned watches, a rapidly expanding category in the industry, with the acquisition last year of the U.S. online specialist Analog:Shift.

And it is focusing on jewelry, which Mr. Duffy said, “is strategically probably the next most exciting thing we are looking at.” (The category’s revenue for the most recent quarter, ending Jan. 30, was £41.8 million, an increase of 88.8 percent compared to the same period in its last fiscal year, but still only 15 percent of the £280 million luxury watch revenue for the same period.)

Mr. Duffy brought a considerable range of financial, commercial and marketing experience to Watches of Switzerland, with work as a chartered accountant at KPMG and a job at Polaroid followed before he joined Playtex UK. By 28, he was its chief financial officer; by 30, he had moved to Paris with his wife and young family to take on the same role for Playtex’s European operation; and by 33, they had relocated to Connecticut, where he became its worldwide financial officer.

He discovered an appetite for risk when, in 1986 in the midst of the junk bond boom, he was part of a management buyout backed by the investment firm KKR. But then, in 1991, the company was sold to the Sara Lee Corporation. “I went from being a net borrower to having net investment and I never had to borrow money for a mortgage or anything after that,” he said.

In 1992, the family returned to Britain as Mr. Duffy became chief executive of Playtex UK, and quickly was involved in the runaway success of Wonderbra, the lingerie brand owned by Sara Lee that he negotiated back from its licensee. Its 1994 “Hello Boys” campaign, starring Eva Herzigova, was plastered on billboards around the world and “became a phenomenal success,” he said. Internationally, “a business that was worth $10 million became a business of $200 million in the space of a couple of years.”