Fabien Bouduban redefines Watch Valley’s core competency
Against the ticking backdrop of high-end ultra precision manufacturing in the northeastern part of Switzerland moves an entrepreneur of an unusual flair. And before we’d even had a chance to ask the question, Fabien Bouduban – Owner and CEO of Tectri S.A. – had handed us the unpretentious secret to his success: “All I do is keep my head in the game.”
Precision is a core competency in Bernese Jura, where for nearly two-hundred years local smallholders kept watch-making workshops on their farms for bad weather days. Originally a side business, these would evolve into the manufacture of the high-end timepieces ‘Watch Valley’ is known for. According to Francis Koller, President of the Musée du Tour Automatique et d’Histoire in Moutier, the bucolic watch-makers eventually migrated down into the valley and settled along the Birse to harness the river’s hydraulic energy; an evolution that would spawn the new industry of decolletage, also known as precision turning or lathing, from a need for minute precision parts, notably pinions and screws. The era saw a significant upcropping of these companies along the watercourse, but there remained a primary need for the machines that could increase production.
It was in 1880 that Nicolas Junker, a forerunner in his field, brought to Moutier the first automatic lathe – or tour automatique – founding what would become today’s global brand leader, Tornos S.A. The corporation supplies highly precise Swiss automatic turning machines to an array of decolletage businesses worldwide.
By 1925, Tornos’ hometown had established itself as the market leader; and with it a region’s reputation for diligence, mastery, precision and the meticulous stringency so coveted in the watch-making industry. But like everything, a time of famine was sure to come; and in the late 1990s an entire generation of businesses began to flounder.
It was in 1998 that Fabien Bouduban received a phone call from his father, CEO of a local enterprise nearing the second half of his career. Would he like to launch a business together despite the economic climate? He had twenty-four hours to decide. It took him only fifteen. And Tectri S.A. was born. “When you strike, strike hard,” smiles the entrepreneur.
100% family owned, the Court-based company specializes in complex machining with a “core competence in customer-specific” engineering. They produce sophisticated turned and milled parts in metal and plastic, opting for small and medium-sized series that accommodate a high complexity. 70% of Tectri business is medical-related, while a remaining 30% targets watch-making, producing in the ballpark of half a million parts annually.
The CEO admits that compared to bigger global players, Tectri isn’t cutting edge in terms of size, but it is just that where customer relationship and satisfaction are concerned. The company tailors to fit; and as a wholly independent business operating on a handshake philosophy, it is open to any technological challenge that clients can throw their way. A ‘big picture’ approach that falls in stark contrast to Watch Valley’s traditional ‘slow and steady wins the race’ philosophy.
In short, the entrepreneur is a risk taker. The fact that his business is self-sufficient, which gives him a unique autonomy in his dealings, frees him up to act on instinct. “Our concept is to serve our customers in a direct way – without going through third parties. I talk to my customers, try to understand their needs. I shoulder all the risk, but enjoy all the profit, too.”
And Bouduban definitely knows how to Gatsby it up. Sporting a Rolex and driving a black Porsche, he carries himself with the paradoxical ease of another world. His family hails from Court, a rural but also industrial town of about 1,500 inhabitants, but the entrepreneur has no trouble mixing with the cosmopolitan elite; and his taste for extravagance is as evident as it is understated. A lifelong interest in luxury cars burgeoned as early as the age of three, when he would identify makes and models to his father as they drove the highway. Among his current collection of six cars can be found a 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Super Trofeo Stradale, of which there are a mere one-hundred and fifty in existence. His biggest and perhaps most surprising fetish is for racing, however, and he takes part in the Hill Climb Road Race in France annually, driving a classic white Norma Sport Proto.
“Did you think you would one day be the owner of a luxury car?” we ask. “Never once,” he responds, but not without explaining that prior to his grand-father’s death years ago, the entrepreneur had promised him that his license plate would one day be carried by a luxury car. Today, that plate hangs on his very first Porsche, which he owns to this day. Both highly driven and sentimental? This CEO lays claim to an elegance all his own.
Having earned a diploma in precision mechanics before pursuing an engineering degree in microtechnology from the Ecole d’ingénieurs de Saint-Imier (EISI), Bouduban knows his business from start to finish. There is nothing under the Tectri roof that he himself does not know how to do, from preparing a FedEx shipment to maintaining the machines. But that’s not his usual practise. A complete management philosophy leaves ample space for individual responsibility and motivation.
“I am passionate about my work, and I try to convey that to my people. And while I don’t ask that they carry the weight of decision-making, I encourage feedback and dialogue. I want my employees to feel good about what they do, I want their input, and I give them full responsibility in their tasks.”
In transit nearly 2/3 of the year, the CEO trusts his forty employees to run the place in his absence. His is not an iron hand, rather he fosters a sense of personal drive and accountability. “I don’t want to be a policeman,” he asserts. “My position is that of a leader”.
Like the thousands of other businesses striving to define their place on the economic horizon, Tectri S.A. works to maintain its current market position. At the short-term, Bouduban is confident, saying that his client relationships are strong and a promising future is ahead. His concern lies much more at the mid-term, where the global economy – in his opinion – will eventually peak. The medical industry has been seeing an annual 20% decrease in orthopaedic and medical implants for years; there is no question this will affect business at the long-term. The company boasts roughly thirty major clients, mostly from the US, but also emerging from Asia. They do business with countries like Malaysia and Singapore, but when asked about their future trajectory, Japan is the target country.
Bouduban asserts that at this point, Tectri S.A. has “taken off and is in full flight”; but as the natural born leader he is, his vision extends far beyond the current success. His long-term strategy? “Eventually every one of us will land – the trick is to avoid the crash”.
OFF THE RECORD
What time do you get up in the morning?
As late as I can.
How much do you travel in a year?
Is there a tool you can’t live without?
“Trees don’t grow to the sky, and markets don’t fall to the floor.” — Warren Buffett
Coffee or tea?
What is your managing strategy in a nutshell?
- Be honest
- Know your limits
- Act with respect
Wine of choice?
Château Malartic-Lagravière (a Bordeaux from the Pessac Léognan appellation), 2001 for my daughter Alice, 2004 for my daughter Lisa
For a stronger occasion?
Lagavullin Whisky – with a cigar
Le Temps, CNN, Bloomberg, Romandie.ch
Article by Allison Zurfluh, Photographer: Allison Zurfluh