Under the leadership of Nicolas G. Hayek (1928-2010), the Swatch Group achieved worldwide renown as the crown jewel of the watchmaking industry. In the early 1980s, Mr. Hayek led the firm’s recovery from a severe crisis. His decisive leadership was critical to the launch of the Swatch watch in 1983 and subsequently drove the continuous development and improvement of all Swatch Group brands. His innovative strategies also served as important models for the Swiss watchmaking industry as a whole and played a key role in the revival of the industry. The achievements of N.G. Hayek have been widely recognized in Switzerland and beyond, resulting in a number of notable awards, including that of Doctor honoris causa, awarded by the Universities of Neuchâtel and Bologna in 1998. In 2003, he was named Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de France. Nicolas G. Hayek was Chairman and Delegate of the Board of Directors of The Swatch Group Ltd from 1986 to 2010.
In 1998, SMH (Swiss Corporation for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Ltd.), founded by Nicolas G. Hayek in 1983 through the merger Swiss watchmakers ASUAG and SSIH, was renamed The Swatch Group. At the time, both SSIH and ASUAG held a number of well-established Swiss watch brands. ASUAG had been founded in 1931, SSIH a year earlier through the amalgamation of Omega and Tissot. SSIH’s principal objective was to market quality Swiss watches. By taking over companies that produced high-quality movements and a number of lower-end watch brands, SSIH gradually managed to establish a strong position as a Swiss watch manufacturer. ASUAG’s mandate was to maintain, improve and develop the Swiss watch industry. ASUAG also expanded gradually through the purchase of companies that made movement-blanks and a number of finished watch manufacturers that were subsequently brought together under the subsidiary GWC General Watch Co. Ltd.
In the 1930s, both ASUAG and SSIH sought to combat the severe economic crisis and ensuing unemployment by means of complementary research and development programs in their respective companies. It proved difficult for both, however, to implement a common industrial policy for the subsidiaries concerned. Following repeated crises in the Swiss watch industry, by the 1970s both ASUAG and SSIH were once again in trouble. Foreign competition, in particular the Japanese watch industry, with its mass production of cheap new electronic products and new technology, was rapidly establishing a strong foothold in the market. Eventually, both ASUAG and SSIH faced liquidation, and foreign competitors were offering to buy prestigious brands such as Omega, Longines, Tissot, and others.
At this point, Nicolas G. Hayek, at the time Chief Executive Officer of Hayek Engineering, received an assignment to develop a strategy for the future of both companies. In 1983, the soon to be renowned Hayek Study recommended a number of measures designed to enable the survival and ultimate recovery of the companies. Critical steps included the merger of ASUAG and SSIH into SMH and the launching of a low-cost, high-tech, artistic and emotional «second watch» – the Swatch. The subsequent implementation of the measures recommended by the Hayek Study, together with the take-over of the majority of shares by the Hayek Pool and the nomination of Nicolas G. Hayek as CEO, successfully created new opportunities and established a new culture. Within five years, the SMH Group was to become the most valuable watchmaker in the world.