If wishes were horses, Olivier Bernheim would be riding one instead of sitting down to be interviewed. The 58-year-old president and CEO of luxury watch-maker Raymond Weil is a lover of the great outdoors and spends hours horseback riding, or hiking with his dogs. But as we stand in the noisy lounge of a hotel on a busy Delhi road, even the notion of peace seems rather elusive.
Bernheim is on the road a lot. Two weeks of the month, usually — one week in the US and another in any of the other markets he looks after, China or somewhere in Europe. When he is home in Geneva, though, he takes one of his three horses for long rides that usually last four hours or more. “That’s certainly much longer than my wife prefers,” he laughs. It’s a passion that comes with many lessons for his life and work.
First up, respect. “You cannot be a good horseback rider if you don’t respect the animal,” he says. “The most important lesson this teaches me is how to respect someone else. It’s a partnership between you and the horse and you both must work together.” His rides also teach him about balance and control. “You have to think about things outside yourself,” he says. “And it’s important to control yourself. If you hurt the animal, it will remember.”
We leave horses behind for a bit and talk about his other passion, music. His favourite composers are Brahms and Schubert and music is, in fact, a bit of a Raymond Weil family tradition. Weil was a music enthusiast and Bernheim’s wife, Diana, is a concert pianist. “We attend many concerts in Europe and the company sponsors several music events as well,” he says. “It’s one of the perks of my job, being able to merge personal passion and professional interest.
Bernheim is the son-in-law of Raymond Weil and he quit his job in Unilever, selling yogurt and other dairy products, to take over the business from his father-in-law. He sees his grounding in a multinational company as an important criterion to riding through these bad times. “Even simple things like making projections for the next three and five years aren’t usually done in family managed businesses,” he says. “But since I started my career in Unilever, I am able to apply a lot of big company practices in a family-run organisation. That is a big advantage.” The reason he jumped at the offer to join the family business, he says, was the fact that he could live in Geneva, “which is heaven.” It’s where his horses are. And the forests and hills they ride through.