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Richemont head of watchmaking leaves four months into job

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Swiss luxury-goods maker Richemont's head of watchmaking, once seen as a candidate to lead the entire company, is leaving less than four months after a management reorganization put him in control of a portfolio of brands stretching from IWC Schaffhausen to Vacheron Constantin.

[ZURICH] Swiss luxury-goods maker Richemont's head of watchmaking, once seen as a candidate to lead the entire company, is leaving less than four months after a management reorganization put him in control of a portfolio of brands stretching from IWC Schaffhausen to Vacheron Constantin.

Georges Kern, a 17-year Richemont veteran, resigned with immediate effect to pursue another opportunity, the Geneva-based company said in a statement Friday, adding it regrets the loss. Richemont didn't name a replacement, and the departments he was responsible for, which also include digital and marketing, will report directly to the senior executive committee.

The Swiss watch industry is trying to recover after the longest downturn in exports on record as it faces challenges such as encroachment from Apple Inc, which has become the world's second-bestselling watch brand. Richemont Chairman Johann Rupert said in May it's time to let a new generation of executives lead the company after a 14 per cent drop in fiscal-year operating profit. Its Montblanc brand began selling a smartwatch this year.

"The management structure is relatively new and I assume he didn't feel comfortable with it," said Jon Cox, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux. "Some assumed that Kern could become group CEO one day but now the group is run by a senior executive committee. Of course Johann Rupert is an ever present and I don't see any change in strategy."

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The Geneva-based company began its biggest management overhaul in years in November, when it eliminated the companywide chief executive officer position. Mr Kern, 52, received an offer to "become an entrepreneur," Mr Rupert said in the statement.

Mr Kern, born in 1965, stepped down from the senior executive committee and group management committee and will no longer be standing for election to the board of directors at the annual general meeting in September, Richemont said. Previously he ran the IWC brand for 15 years.

"Richemont is losing a highly knowledgeable, strong personality," Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG, wrote in a note.

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