WatchPro Person of the Year 2016: Brian Duffy

Brian Duffy Aurum

This month WatchPro launches its Person of the Year accolade, a chance for us to reflect on the previous 12 months and offer our opinion on the single most influential figure working in the UK watch industry today.

There would be little point in trying to summarise the criteria we used to reach our conclusion; influence is something all-encompassing and simultaneously impossible to pin-down.

That said; one person stood out this year above all others. His influence has resulted in massive investment and one of the largest, most rapid retail expansions in living memory, not with a single brand but across four.

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Apart from overseeing the opening of two multi-million pound, multi-floor Watches of Switzerland flagship boutiques on Regent Street and Oxford Street and two more at Canary Wharf and Heathrow during his tenure he also launched seven new boutique.Goldsmiths stores in the last two months of 2015.

In its first year of business Watches of Switzerland’s flagship 155 Regent Street sold 3,630 watches worth £42m at an average sales price of £11, 570. Its team, one that went through unheard of levels of brand training prior to launch, did this by converting nine percent of the people coming through the door into paying customers.

The parent company of these retailers, Aurum Holdings, itself owned by American private equity company Apollo Global Management, has also been keen to broaden its horizons with the purchase of The Watch Shop, in August 2014, and then The Watch Hut, in September last year. The acquisitions suddenly gave Aurum two fast-growing e-commerce outlets at the market’s entry-level, diversifying its portfolio as well as acquiring considerable digital expertise as part of the deal. The move was the canniest of business decisions.

While this expansion, both online and in bricks and mortar, has no doubt helped Aurum achieve the staggering 31.8% market share of UK watch sales with year-on-year growth of 19%, they will have also created many, many new jobs along the way. Aurum’s market share also no doubt accounts for a healthy percentage of the surge in Swiss watch imports, helping to make the UK the fastest-growing major market for the Swiss watch industry.

A recent press investigation into Aurum Holdings’ corporate structure and tax arrangements was ill-informed, and failed to account for the impact on profits from huge investment in acquisitions and store growth. Even so, our recipient personally spoke to WatchPro about the issue with a quiet dignity that contradicted the corporate nature of his position.

The man we now name as the first recipient of the WatchPro Person of the Year has strengthened his company’s position in the UK watch retail sector immeasurably in less than two years and has demonstrated what can be achieved by adopting a bold, offensive strategy.

Aurum Holdings’ chief executive officer Brian Duffy is the WatchPro Person of the Year 2016.

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James Buttery

The author James Buttery

Editor of WatchPro, the WatchPro Hot 100 and The Luxury Report.