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In His Own Words: CEO & Founder of MB&F Maximilian Büsser

By Attireclub @attireclub
In His Own Words: CEO & Founder of MB&F Maximilian BüsserMaximilian Büsser is the CEO and founder of the MB&F (Maximilian Büsser & Friends) watch brand. Before embarking on this very personal journey, he was the CEO of Harry Winston Timepieces and a senior manager at Jaeger-LeCoultre. In 2005, he founded his own company, which focuses on creating three-dimensional kinetic art that he calls "Horological Machines", as his wristwatches and other creations are very avant-garde, unique and highly conceptual. In 2011, Max also founded the M.A.D. Gallery - short for Mechanical Art Devices, in Geneva, Switzerland, in which visitors can see not only his creations, but also those of other artists. Today, there are three such galleries in world, located in Geneva, Dubai and Taipei. For this exclusive InCompany by Attire Club feature, Max has opened up about creativity, why it is important for him to stay true to himself and how he balances the art and business sides of his work. The Swiss entrepreneur is a real maverick in his own way and his insights are thought-provoking and definitely helpful to anyone looking to find his way in the world.

Max was born in 1967 to an Indian mother and a Swiss father, who was a diplomat for the small mountainous country. He was born in Italy and spent most of his childhood in the French part of Switzerland. "I always dreamed to be a car designer", Max recalls when thinking about his teenage years, during which he sketched a good amount of cars. Thus, it seemed only natural that when he 18, he told his parents he wanted to enroll in a new car school which had just opened in Switzerland. However, the costs for attending the school were extremely high. "The price in those days was 50 000 Swiss francs", Büsser recalls, "today it would be an enormous amount of money, but 33 years ago, it was a humongous amount of money." This was definitely an issue, as his father was middle class and could not afford it. "He went white", Max remembers, "but a week later, he came back and said "you know what, we know it's your dream, we'll try to find the money"". While his dad's gesture was highly appreciated, Max realized that it would probably be very hard for him to gather that kind of money in such a short amount of time. So he decided to do engineering first and then he would specialize in design - this way, he would be able to create the things he dreamt of.

However, during his years at the university, Max became passionate with watchmaking. This was in a time when classic watchmaking was not popular at all, which made Max's passion downright anti-mainstream. He recalls: "Mechanical watchmaking was dead. Nobody wanted to buy a mechanical watch because quartz was much cheaper and more reliable... What happened was that during my 3rd year, were given a project which mixed engineering and psychology or engineering and sociology - and I chose to do a project on why people still buy expensive mechanical watches. I really did not understand why people still did that. So I sent letters out to all the brands. At the time, those brands were quite small and rather not well off. However, because the brands were so small I got a reply from the CEO of each company. They all told me they would give me one hour if I wanted to meet with them, so I actually met the heads of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet, Breguet, Vacheron Constantin and many more. And all these people told me in essence the same thing, "We know what we do is pointless. But it's so beautiful". And for me, that was a shock. Maybe today it's different, but when you did engineering studies 30 - 35 years ago, nobody talked about the notion of beauty, it was all about efficiency. The other thing they talked to me about was humanity. These men were talking about how they keep the craft going as a continuation of the hard work of all their forefathers and that it was for their fathers and grandfathers who knew and mastered classic watchmaking that they were doing it. I remember being completely in shock - it was the first time anyone was talking to me about beauty and humanity linked to engineering."

In His Own Words: CEO & Founder of MB&F Maximilian Büsser

This moment of discovering the emotional worth of watches echoed with an earlier moment in Max's life, when he was 18 and his parents, like all Swiss parents, wanted to give him a watch as a gift. They offered a budget of 700 francs, which was a quite a lot of his parents back in the day. So he started to go from store to store and check out watches, seeing what could be bought for that sum. However, his attention was drawn when, soon after starting college, he was sitting down next to a colleague and noticed the watch on his wrist. He engaged him in conversation about his watch and found out it was a Rolex. "I had never heard of a Rolex before", Büsser explains, but he was intrigued into finding out more. "He said his watch was worth in those days 4 700 francs. And my jaw dropped. This was the salary I was making in a year, working as a cinema usher in the evening and doing all kinds of small jobs. That was the first ever time when watches came into my radar... And so, one thing lead to another..."

In His Own Words: CEO & Founder of MB&F Maximilian Büsser
As it happened, his first real job was with Jaeger-LeCoultre. "I started there when Jaeger was quite nothing. It was coming out of a series of near-bankruptcies and we were a bunch of crazy people who were in love with what we were doing. But there was no glam, no money, no celebrities - it was all passionate people, all crazy people. I did 7 years at Jaeger, which were incredible, and then I got head-hunted to become the managing director of Harry Winston Timepieces. I went to the interview because I was sure I had no chance. I was just a small manager. But I got the job." Max says. What he did not know though, was that Harry Winston Timepieces was at the time virtually bankrupt and that Harry Winston, the brand, had been put on sale the week after he got the job, because the company was in bad shape.

When pondering on that time, Max says "What should have been the most beautiful year of my professional life became the most horrible year of my life." He had to save the company with virtually no help from the brand and this really took a toll on him. The time between 1998 and 99 left Büsser not just exhausted, but also with medical problems, as the 18-hour long workdays left him with a case of ulcer. In the end, the company was saved and it taught Max an important lesson about what he is capable of doing in terms of management. The success, however, had a downside as well. Max remembers, "The more success I had, the more money I gained and the more power I had, the less I was enjoying myself. I couldn't understand why and, more importantly, I felt guilty; when you come from the type of background I come from, and are suddenly the poster boy of a generation enjoying money, success and having your face in the newspaper - you are not allowed to be unhappy. And then, my dad passed away, on the 31st of December 2001. At the moment, it did not really impact me, but a year later, whenever I would see a movie where a son lost his dad, I would cry in front of the television. So I decided to go into therapy. Which for a European is not easy at all. So I did 18 months of therapy, and that helped a lot. At one point, after things had cleared out, the therapist said "So we talked about your dad, but if you walk out now and get hit by a bus, what other regrets would you have?" At that point, I realized in shock that I hated my life, and I was so not proud of what I was doing. Not that I was doing anything that was reprehensible; but the little boy, who used to be an artist, had become a marketing man. All I was doing was creating products because I thought they would sell."

In His Own Words: CEO & Founder of MB&F Maximilian Büsser
And so, Max decided to change his life and his work. He decided that to be proud of himself, he needed to create a brand where with no shareholders and where he can do the things he believes in, without any external pressure. Max also realized that he was doing a disservice to his roots, an idea strongly connected to what he had learned when he had done his university project. "I realized my parents were probably the most honest and respectful people I've ever met. And, in work, in business, you have to deal with some absolutely horrible people... and I realized that I was transgressing the values my parents had instilled into me. And that is when I decided to make my own brand and call it MB&F, Maximilian Büsser & Friends. I decided I was going to work just with people who share the same values. Only with people who are honest and respectful - otherwise I don't want to work with them."

And that is how the MB&F story started. Surely, the start was tough, there was not enough money, no working space - Max was working out of his flat, but the work had begun. The core of the company was back then, in 2005, the same it is today: staying true to your aesthetic vision and finding likeminded people, wherever they may be. A very important aspect of Max's approach to MB&F is that he makes absolutely no compromise from a creative point of view. With MB&F, Max has decided to make only the things he wants to make, not really thinking of whether people are going to like it and if they are going to buy it. Surely, there have to be people in the world who will connect with his creations, so spreading the word about the company is essential to its success. Moreover, to be able to sustain a small company, Max has found it essential to be honest about what he can and can't do, where he is good at and where he is not and to find the people who can excel in the areas where he can't, so that everything works as well as it can.

Why you do something is another key aspect to Max's view. For years, he's been traveling around the world, spreading the word not just about what he does, but about why he does it. In many ways, it can be said that our motivations are what brings us closer, so giving a people an understanding of why he does the things he does is a key component to a successful small business.

A company with an accent on originality and personality will definitely have a rather hard task in finding clients. But, what Max has learned over the years is that the more out there you go with a piece, the more it will be appreciated by "the tribe", as he calls the wearers of MB&F pieces. "The worst thing you can do as a creator is to subdue your own creativity", says the Swiss watchmaker. "If you create an artistic object, go as crazy as you can" he continues. What Max has found is that regardless of where the people who wear his watches come from they all have the passion for individuality. According to Maximilian, for the MB&F customer, it's more important to express himself than his status. Thus, even though a piece from his brand may cost the same or more than one from a well-known brand, signaling status is not the first thing his clients want to do.

When describing his customers, Max says: "our customers are as much rebels as we are, meaning most of our customers are first of all, entrepreneurs, they all have a state of mind based on independence and they are people who don't give a damn about what other people think of them."

The people who identify with Max's brand look for things that are obviously out of the ordinary. And what's more out of the ordinary than visionary pieces that look as if they have just stepped out from a sci-fi movie? Not to mention the fact that the MB&F pieces are all built with Swiss precision.

The inspiration for the pieces comes from the mechanical watches of the 18th and 19th centuries, which are deconstructed and reconstructed in a completely avant-garde manner. This is a long process in itself: 2 and a half years go into R&D, another year and a half are dedicated to manufacturing and hand-finish 500 - 600 components that go into the watch and another month to assemble them. Surely, the pieces indicate the time, but so does any phone. Thus, the purpose is the sculpture itself, is the concept and the way it is thought and constructed.

In His Own Words: CEO & Founder of MB&F Maximilian Büsser

The success of the MB&F pieces has also helped Maximilian become more creative. "Success is what allows you to be more confident, because it's very difficult to create when thinking that you're going to bankrupt your company." But the rebellion and the anger towards different aspects of his life have also lit a fire under him. "When you become more successful, you lose a lot of the anger, because anger is an important part of your creative process" Max says. This is why, he believes that once you lose your anger, or a good part of it, you need to rebel against your own creation. To avoid becoming only self-referential Max enjoys exploring new territories and to embarking on new projects. He realized that he works on a 7-year cycle; he was 7 years at Jaeger-LeCoultre, 7 years at Harry Winston and has now worked 14 years at MB&F and it was in the 7th year at his own brand that he developed his gallery concept. So, it is only normal for Max to look for new horizons. This is why, he is now preparing his first ladies watch - not because there is market for that, ultimately the MB&F aesthetic is a rather male aesthetic, but because he wants to celebrate his wife and daughters, who are the only people in his family and because he felt the need to create for someone else. "As you know, the only thing we're sure about men is that we don't understand women... so it was really complicated... but I'm proud of what we will come out with." A second brand is also in the works, which will offer more affordable watches, but that still has a long way to go.

MB&F and Max's vision and life are for the books. They go to show how in the light of being and having something you want and like, the struggle makes it worth it. Max seems to be looking ahead with optimism for himself and his endeavors: there's still a lot to do, but where the creative journey will take him next, we can't really know... in the end, the unexpected is the essence of his soul.

Fraquoh and Franchomme

P.S. We want to hear from you! What do you think of Max's story? How do you connect with the MB&F aesthetic? What would you like to see from the brand? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!


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