Franck Juhel

In 1960, Montblanc was born. Today after 112 years, this German manufacturer of luxury writing instruments, watches, jewelry and leather goods has reached the highest level of excellence worldwide. Often identified by its “snow peak” logo, Montblanc is a global maison for men and women, a place where you can easily find the perfect and meaningful present for him/her and a haven for pen collectors who appreciate the art of writing.

Being appointed as president of the luxury maison’s operations across the Middle East, India and Africa, Franck Juhel passionately shared in an exclusive interview with Kuwait Times the history, meaning and inspiration behind Montblanc’s collections. Based in Dubai, Juhel is responsible for 33 markets, with a focus on strengthening key partnerships and accelerating the development of Montblanc in the region. Juhel takes up his latest position following three years as president of Montblanc Latin America, Caribbean and Travel Retail Americas.

His career at Richemont began in 2004 in the commercial department of Cartier in Paris, before assuming the marketing role for Cartier’s perfume and leather categories in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In 2006, he joined Jaeger-LeCoultre, where he held senior management positions as commercial director and regional director for Latin America and Caribbean, and as head of the company’s Spanish operations. Some excerpts:

Kuwait Times: There is a long relationship between Gulf customers and Montblanc – how do you describe this relationship?
Franck Juhel: It is a historical relationship due to the fact that Montblanc is a luxury company where craftsmanship is part of our DNA. Beauty and craftsmanship are also a part of Gulf countries and their inhabitants, and I think we are a match since many years now.

KT: Montblanc in the past was only based on black and white colors and strictly for writing instruments – however lately, you have broadened your color choices and categories. Can you tell us more about these changes?
Juhel: It is true that Montblanc was created based on writing instruments. This evolved in the past years, and today, Montblanc is a global brand and maison offering a whole universe from watches to leather goods to cufflinks to writing instruments. Everything we have done the same way we did with the writing instruments – it is always with innovation in mind and to make something better.
When we entered watchmaking many years ago, we did it through our two watch manufactories in Switzerland – one in LeLocle and the other in Villeret. This year we are celebrating our 160th anniversary in Villeret, which is one of the oldest factories in Switzerland that also gives us the heritage of the knowhow that is there and adds to our innovation.

KT: Can you tell us more about the ‘Le petite Prince’ collection?
Juhel: We launched the ‘Le petite Prince’ collection based on the writing instrument Meisterst¸ck, which is an icon by Montblanc in writing instruments. Meisterst¸ck has always been black and since we wanted to celebrate ‘Le petite Prince’ written by Antoine de Saint-ExupÈry by doing something very meaningful. For the first time, we worked on changing the color of the Meisterst¸ck with a beautiful deep blue shade. For us, everything we do has to have a meaning. We worked with our design department and historians to find this perfect blue, and we did a lot of research before we introduced this particular color. ‘Le petite Prince’ is a book that has been translated into 300 different languages and is a worldwide bestseller.

KT: Did it find popularity with customers?
Juhel: The collection was a big success with customers all over the world , because it was a perfect match between Montblanc and the book. The story is very meaningful, full of values known by everybody. The most interesting part about the ‘Le petite Prince’ story is when you read it as a kid and you read it again when you grow up, your level of understanding is completely different, because there are so many different levels of understanding within the book and values in the book. Many people should read it again to share and be reminded of the true and right values that need to be shared between us.

KT: Is it a limited edition?
Juhel: Yes, some references are limited. Everything is limited by time not number, and we have one reference that is limited by number.

KT: Montblanc mainly started as a male brand, and recently you have a few items for women. Do you have any future plans to add more items for the ladies?
Juhel: Today Montblanc is a whole universe. It is true it is more oriented towards men, but writing is a universal art, and time is also what we all need to look at. This is why we have dedicated collections of writing instruments and watches for women. For sure in the future, we are going to develop more lines for our feminine clientele, and we are already in the process of producing a whole new range for women. Ironically, did you know that approximately 65 percent of our clients are ladies? They usually buy for their fathers, husbands and even for themselves.

KT: You signed up AB de Villiers last year as your brand ambassador. Why did the choice fell on him?
Juhel: Everything takes time, and it is the same thing with the brand ambassador. It is very important for us. The same way we work with Beidoun here, is that we have to share the same values, and I’m convinced to have a real and true brand ambassador that presents the brand the way we want it to be presented – it is not only a contract, but a relationship that is built over time. AB was and still is a client of Montblanc in South Africa for different events. We have been in contact for many years now and naturally the story of the brand ambassador came up as an opportunity. But it was not the basis of our relationship – it was a natural way to continue the relationship we already have with AB.

KT: What about Hugh Jackman?
Juhel: He was also a client in the US. We have Hugh as a brand ambassador for four years now, and I think he is also a perfect match. Our relationship is a natural one – if we don’t have a natural relationship with our brand ambassadors, it wouldn’t work. You will know it is fake and fake is not part of our value.

KT: Do we see any possibility of signing up any Kuwaiti or Gulf star or personality as a Montblanc ambassador?
Juhel: Yes, definitely. We have great citizens from Gulf countries that are part of our family. We haven’t picked anyone yet, but I think with time it will come naturally. There are a few names in the region but we cannot announce them because there is no formal contract. They are not only regular customers, they are the maison’s friends. They come to support us – they love to be part of anything we do here, and we feel very privileged at the maison to have them.

KT: What will be your latest addition to your current collection? And do you customize for your clients?
Juhel: Luckily at Montblanc, there is no trend, because our products at the maison are a lifetime companion. However, we are launching next month a complete new line of luggage with different shapes and sizes. It will be unisex and you can personalize some colors. Every year we have a new collection in all categories, but the next big one to come is the luggage line.
Yes, we do customize all our product categories. We work with our customers on the design as well on the watches and leather goods. We bring our leather from our factory in Italy, and thanks to this, we are able to do bespoke and unique pieces that we develop with our customers exclusively for them, where they can choose the shape, color and type of leather.

KT: Do you consider Kuwait a key market for Montblanc?
Juhel: Yes, Kuwait is a key market because we have a historical presence here and the knowledge of our clients is very high. Last night I met a few Kuwaiti Montblanc writing instrument collectors and some of them if not all knew about Montblanc products more than myself. It was amazing to share this passion and interest that we have in common.

KT: There are three stores of Montblanc in Kuwait – in 360 Mall, Avenues Mall and Al-Hamra. Are there any future plans to open a fourth store?
Juhel: For us, our main plan in Kuwait is based on three pillars – the first we have reached already, which is to have the same product availability that you can find anywhere else in the world, so Kuwaitis or people living in Kuwait don’t have to travel to find Montblanc products they want. The second pillar is service – to maintain and offer very high quality of service. The experience you get when you enter a Montblanc boutique in Kuwait has to be the same experience you get when you enter Montblanc in New York, London or India. The experience has to be of the same high-quality level. With our partner Beidoun, we are always listening to the market and which new mall is going to open, and how the market is performing. We always look at what the market needs and the shift from one mall to another – that’s why we have local partners and we are very lucky in Kuwait to have Beidoun.

KT: Can you tell me about your partnership with Beidoun?
Juhel: We have been partners with Beidoun since 1994 in Kuwait and it is very important to us to have partners that understand the brand and the high expectations that we have as a brand worldwide and locally. The Beidoun family and group have been amazing and we work hand in hand with them in order to see ways on how we can improve, not only in terms of sales, but also improve the quality of service and the whole Montblanc experience and universe in Kuwait. For us it is very important to choose the right partners and we have in this region partners since many years, and it’s thanks to them that we are able to talk and to do this interview in this beautiful boutique in Kuwait.

By Sahar Moussa